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The Boy from Kinloch Hold

Chapter Text

The boy stared at the plain wooden door before him, determined not to flinch under the heavy, mailed hand that tightly gripped his shoulder. The templar was standing right behind him, the sound of the armoured man’s breathing resounding in the boy’s right ear like thunder. With his free hand, the templar reached out and rapped a knuckle on the door, which swung open almost immediately. The boy’s jaw clenched as the hand on his shoulder forced him forwards, half-shoving and half-dragging him into the chamber. Once they’d crossed the threshold, the door closed itself with a slight creak.

It wasn’t the boy’s first time in the office. He recognised the bookcases lining the walls, recalled the heavy musk of old wood and parchment, and knew all too well the face of the old man hunched over the beautiful wooden desk in the centre of the room. Said man glanced up as the boy was forcefully brought into the room, a solitary grey eyebrow raised in mild surprise. The man’s thick beard was flecked with the dark hair that had once covered his head before it had turned to its current faded colour, and his face was as lined and worn as an old map.

“Knight-Commander Greagoir,” he said, his voice weary with age, “what brings you and this apprentice to my office?”

The hand gripping the boy relinquished him at last as the templar stepped forward, an accusatory finger entering the boy’s field of vision as the knight commander moved past him. Greagoir was a huge man, even for a templar, and his armour only made him appear even larger. He strode further into the room as though it were his own office and not that of the First Enchanter.

“This boy,” the templar growled in a voice that was used to commanding attention, “was in an altercation with one of my men.”

First-Enchanter Irving nodded, straightening himself up and moving around the desk as he approached. His eyes studied the boy’s face with no small amount of curiosity. “Yes, I can see your subordinate left their mark on him.”

“I recommend he be disciplined immediately,” the knight-commander continued. “As you’re aware, this is far from the first time this boy has had to be escorted to your office.”

“Indeed, it isn’t,” Irving agreed, “nor is it the first time one of your men has assaulted one of the apprentices.”

Greagoir bristled. “I don’t like what you’re insinuating, Irving.”

“Then I am to believe that the templar involved in this ‘altercation’ was similarly injured, if not more so?”

“Well, no...”

“Did young Amell lay a finger on this templar at all?”

“No, but-”

Irving cut off the knight-commander once again. “Did he use any magic on the templar?”

The apprentice could hear Greagoir’s teeth grinding even from where he stood. “He claims the boy threatened to do so.”

“The boy has a name,” Irving gently reminded the other man. “I’m sure he would prefer you use it.”

Greagoir’s patience was noticeable wearing thin, judging by the strained tone in which he said, “He claims that Amell threatened to do so.”

“And what say you to these accusations, Callum?”

Hearing his forename spoken for the first time since entering the office, Callum Amell looked up from the fine carpet on the floor to meet the First-Enchanter’s gaze.

“Ser Porter had cornered Feyren Surana in the corner of the library. I intervened. He punched me.” Callum tapped the bruise on his face, just below his right eye, where his flesh had swollen from the impact of Porter’s gauntlet.

“First-Enchanter,” Greagoir said, not even sparing Callum a glance, “the apprentice had no right to interfere with a templar’s investigation into one of their charges.”

“With all due respect,” Callum said, trying to keep the anger out of his voice, “the only thing Ser Porter wanted to ‘investigate’ is what lies underneath Feyren’s robes. Your man is the one who should be disciplined, not me.”

The knight-commander turned at last to look at him, his eyes burning with anger. His voice, when he spoke, was dangerously low. “I will not be spoken to in such a manner, boy.”

“Knight-Commander, please.” Irving had raised his hands and was stepping forward as he walked towards them both, coming to a stop between them. “You will not earn Callum’s respect, or indeed that of any headstrong young mage, using such aggression. I will ensure he is disciplined, provided you punish Ser Porter for his own transgressions.”

“But-!”

“Be reasonable, Greagoir,” Irving pleaded. “The boy is still only an apprentice. A gentle hand is the way forward with these things.”

Greagoir bared his teeth at the mage, but his expression soon settled into a scowl. “Very well. See to it that the boy does not escape his rightful punishment. I will...discuss this incident with Ser Porter.”

And without a word of farewell, the knight-commander marched over to the door, pulled it open and stormed out, not bothering to close it behind him. Irving sighed and waved a hand almost lazily, and the office door creaked shut once more.

“I apologise on behalf of Knight-Commander Greagoir,” he said wearily, kneading his forehead. “He sometimes forgets how youthful some of his charges are.”

“I’m not a child, First Enchanter,” Callum protested. “I’m old enough to receive my Harrowing.”

“And yet you remain an apprentice,” Irving pointed out. “Perhaps that is due partly to this constant antagonisation of the templars? If I’m not mistaken this is your third time in my office for similar incidents in as many months.”

Callum frowned. “It’s not my fault. The templars have no right to act the way they do.”

Irving sighed, resting a soothing hand on the same shoulder the knight-commander had been gripping only a few minutes before. “I’m afraid they have every right, Callum. But the templars are here for the protection of both us and the common folk of Ferelden – you must treat them with respect.”

Callum eyed the First-Enchanter with exasperation. Did he really believe what he was saying? Callum had been in the Circle of Magi for over a decade, but in that time he’d seen enough misery caused by the templars to last a lifetime. And Irving had been in the Circle for much, much longer. How could he be so ignorant about the suffering of his fellow mages at the hands of the Chantry and its soldiers?

Irving must have understood the look in the apprentice’s eye, for he sighed again. “I understand how you feel, my boy, I truly do. But when you get to my age, you’ll learn that some battles cannot be won by aggression. Patience and good faith is what leads to change in this world.” The old man smiled, and his eyes twinkled. “I see a bright future ahead of you, Callum. Please think before you throw it away. The last thing you need is to give the templars something to hate you for.”

It was the same old tune as always. A templar would overstep their bounds, Callum would try to stop them, and then the templar would lash out. And every time Callum would wind up back in the First-Enchanter’s office to receive a finger-wagging and a condescending lecture. Maker, it was so exhausting.

“I understand,” Callum replied, deciding to do what Irving wanted, as ever. The First-Enchanter’s smile brightened, and he patted the boy’s cheek fondly.

“Good. Now, run along back to your studies. I understand you have quite the aptitude for spirit magic. If you realise that potential, I’m certain your Harrowing won’t be far-off.”

With one last smile, Irving turned his back on the young mage and strolled calmly back to his desk, where he resumed his perusing of the massive tomes that lay upon it. Having been dismissed, Callum silently left the First-Enchanter’s office, shutting the door behind him.

 

 

“I am so tired.” Callum’s eyes were glaring at the words on the opened page of the book before him as though attempting to scrutinise each letter individually. He knew he was supposed to be studying, but his anger and frustration at everything that had happened were making it difficult for his mind to focus. “Every day it’s the same ordeal. The templars make our lives hell, and we don’t get to do anything about it!”

“Keep your voice down!” Jowan hissed from beside him as he cast a nervous glance around the room. Fortunately, they were in relative privacy – only mages and fellow apprentices were nearby, and nobody seemed to be taking any interest in the two apprentices hunched over their tomes together.

“And the First-Enchanter is useless, too!” Callum continued, obliging his friend by keeping his furious voice low. “Don’t give the templars anything to hate you for, he says. I suppose it’s my fault I was born a mage, then?”

“He’s got a point, Cal,” Jowan muttered. “They’re going to be watching you like a hawk from now on, and it’s not like they didn’t have it out for you before. You’ve got to stop mouthing off to the templars like that.”

“You think I should’ve let that bastard have his way with Feyren?”

“Well, no, but...” Jowan slumped in his chair, his mop of hair falling over his eyes. “I don’t know. I just don’t want to see you end up like Anders. He acts like he’s the same, but deep down I can tell that he’s changed. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to spend a full year in solitary confinement like that.”

“Me neither,” Callum murmured. “But that’s just another example of the templars’ cruelty. No matter what I do, they’re always going to suspect me of wrongdoing – just for being a mage. I might as well act out if I’m going to get in trouble anyway.”

Jowan smiled weakly. “By that logic, you should probably take up blood magic, too.”

Callum chuckled. “For all the templars know, I already have! Those fools can barely tell the difference between spirit magic and blood magic.”

Jowan made an uncomfortable sound in the back of his throat, but didn’t reply. Callum was still angry, but he found it hard not to empathise with the other apprentice. Jowan had been his friend ever since his arrival at the Circle – it was understandable for him to be concerned. The two had been practically inseparable since they’d first met: in fact, people often assumed the two of them were brothers. The fact that the two of them looked so much alike, with their dark hair, skinny frames and pale skin, didn’t help matters. Only Callum’s wide, blue eyes and shorter hair were enough to differentiate them, although Jowan insisted that Callum was the handsomer one – something Callum attributed to his friend’s inferiority complex. Callum, on the other hand, believed that Jowan was the wisest of the pair: he knew when to keep his mouth shut and never snapped at templars. Jowan had been at the Circle before he had arrived, a fellow meek and awkward young boy who Callum had quickly bonded with. But in the years that had followed, Callum had grown more bold and stubborn while his friend had remained more-or-less constant in temperament. Jowan had stuck by him through everything, no matter how many times he’d gotten them into trouble. For that, Callum was grateful. Jowan was far from perfect, but his loyalty made him the best friend Callum could have asked for.

Callum sighed and dragged his eyes back to the book that was still open before him on the table. Try as he may, there was no way he could derive meaning from the words that seemed so jumbled and disorganised through the fog of irritation that clouded his thoughts. Callum groaned, slamming the book shut with a heavy thud and sinking back into his chair.

“You’re not giving up already, are you?” Jowan sounded bemused. “I thought you said you were planning on brushing up on as much conjuration theory as you could today?”

Callum rubbed his eyes blearily. “That was before I saw Porter stalking Feyren in the library...” When he removed his hands and blinked his eyes open again, he caught sight of a familiar face crossing the chamber. A dark-skinned elf in apprentice robes was strolling by, their pointed ears sticking out from a mop of messy, brown hair. They made eye contact with Callum, and the person changed course halfway across the room, making for the table where Callum and Jowan were sitting. Callum smiled back at Feyren as he drew near, but the elf’s expression shifted into a wince as he took in the injury on Callum’s face.

“He got you good, didn’t he?” Feyren tapped his own cheek, indicating the same location Porter had hit Callum.

“I’ve had worse,” Callum said with a shrug, trying not to think about certain memories from his life before the Circle. “Has he left you alone since then?”

Feyren nodded as he sat down on the edge of the desk. “Last I saw of Porter, he was being brought in to speak with Greagoir. Looked very miserable.” He grinned at the thought. “Doubt he’ll be coming near me or anyone else any time soon.”

Callum exhaled a relieved sigh. “Good. It was worth it, then.”

“I owe you,” Feyren said, clapping Callum on his left shoulder. “Normally, a coward like Porter wouldn’t bother me, but...” He shook his head. “The way he cornered me where he knew I couldn’t get away, and when he started grabbing onto me...Maker, I just froze. I don’t know what would’ve happened if you hadn’t been there.”

“You don’t owe me anything,” Callum reassured him.

Feyren raised an eyebrow. “Not even for old times’ sake?”

“I’m not listening,” Jowan announced, shoving his head underneath his book. Callum snickered, and even Feyren laughed along. Although relationships and intimacy were forbidden within the Circle, it was no secret amongst the apprentices that Feyren and Callum had shared plenty of private moments together over the years, although things had never extended beyond the occasional bout of physical intimacy deep in the secluded corners of the tower. That was all any of them could ever afford, when the templars were watching them all so fervently for any signs of dissent. Mages weren’t allowed the ‘luxury’ of love or sex, and so all affairs within the tower walls had to be carried out in seclusion. Just one more injustice to add to the list of those perpetuated against mages.

“I appreciate the offer,” Callum informed him, “but I didn’t help you because I was looking for a ‘favour’.”

Feyren sighed. “How did I know you’d say that? Well, anyway, if you change your mind, you know where to find me.”

“Stuck inside this tower, for the rest of your life?” Callum suggested.

Feyren grinned, giving Callum a wink of farewell as he hopped off of the desk and walked away. Jowan counted to three before he emerged from underneath his book, coughing and spluttering as he inhaled dust from the old tome’s ancient pages.

“That’s what you get for being melodramatic,” Callum said, trying not to breathe in any of the dust himself as he laughed.

“Speak for yourself!” Jowan managed to say in between coughing fits. “I’m not half as melodramatic as you are!”

“What does that mean?” Callum demanded, feigning offence.

“Remember what you were like when you had that crush on Anders? Seemed like all you could do was talk about him.”

“In my defence,” Callum said, interjecting before his friend could remind him of that dark period of his life,” “he’s very pretty.”

“You’ve said that about half the boys in the tower,” Jowan pointed out. “And nearly as many girls.”

“I just have so much love to give!” Callum said, holding his hands over his heart and faking a swoon that made Jowan burst out laughing.

“Now, see, that’s what I’m talking about.”

Callum shrugged as a way of conceding the argument. He was right, of course. Callum was nothing if not passionate – as much about the things he loved as those he hated. He dived into his studies when it came to spirit magic or the ethereal, but had less enthusiasm when it came to the more mundane aspects of magic. That was why being trapped in the Circle was so stifling for him; there was a whole world outside the tower doors just waited for him to explore. The idea of not having templars breathing down his neck and threatening to torture him or his friends at every opportunity was an added bonus.

As it so happened, a spark of inspiration came to Callum later that very afternoon. A commotion drew him and Jowan out to the corridor, where a small procession of templars was marching alongside a group of older mages. Callum recognised one or two senior enchanters among their ranks.

“What’s going on?” he heard Jowan ask from beside him. A nearby apprentice named Keili piped up.

“They’re being allowed to leave the tower on official business.”

“What sort of business?” Callum wondered aloud, only for a voice to answer him from behind him.

“Senior Enchanter Uldred told me that he and the others are being called south to combat the Blight.”

Blight

The word was echoed in whispers around the group of mages and apprentices who had gathered to watch the procession. Some sounded excited, others afraid. Callum stared back wordlessly at the mage who had spoken – a young man named Niall with dark eyes and a gentle voice.

“Is it true?” Jowan asked, trying to mask the fear in his tone with incredulity. “There’s really a Blight happening?”

“The last Blight was Ages ago!” someone exclaimed in a scoff.

“Perhaps it is the Maker’s way of punishing us mages for growing too reckless?” Keili mused.

“Whether it’s really a Blight or not,” Niall continued with a shrug, “King Cailan’s asked specifically for a contingent of mages from the Circle, according to Uldred.”

Callum didn’t linger with his peers to listen further to their discussion. The best way to learn the truth, he decided, was to speak to a senior enchanter in person. Callum ducked past the outstretched arm of a templar, ignoring the noise of protest the armoured figure made, and strolled casually down the corridor until he had caught up with the procession. At the tail end was an older woman with light grey hair tied back in a tight bun. She turned when Callum called her name.

“Senior Enchanter Wynne!”

She blinked in surprise, but before she could respond, Callum felt a mailed hand clamp down hard on his shoulder, not for the first time that day.

“And just where do you think you’re going, boy?” a voice drawled, ringing like metal in Callum’s ears.

Callum would have made to pull out of the templar’s grip, but Wynne held up a hand as though to calm things.

“Peace, ser. This young apprentice means no harm. Likely, he is curious about my leaving the tower. Surely a momentary conversation is not out of the question?”

The templar holding onto Callum grumbled, but reluctantly released him. Callum winced as pain flared in his shoulder again, but he crossed the corridor to the senior enchanted unimpeded.

“Callum, my boy,” she said with a polite smile, “what ever is the matter?”

“Is it true that you’re being asked to fight the Blight?”

She sighed. “Rumours travel quickly as ever inside these walls. But you are mostly correct. Darkspawn gather in the south, and the Grey Wardens speak of a Blight brewing there. His Majesty has called for a small group of mages to aid his troops in the battle to come.”

“And there’s no way I could...” He tried to persuade her of his meaning with his eyes, but the senior enchanter knew better than to be swayed.

“Could what, child?”

He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “...Come along?”

Wynne exhaled through her nose as though chuckling. “Come now, Callum you’re still an apprentice. The king requires Harrowed mages – enchanters, even – to fight the darkspawn.”

Callum had been expecting as much for an answer, but was disappointed nonetheless. It must have shown on his face, for Wynne laid a hand on the side of his face and cupped his cheek fondly.

“A potential Blight is no trivial matter. I know how badly you would like to leave the Circle, but a battle with darkspawn is not something one should be keen to take part in. I do this because I have been asked to, not because I would like to. I must hold my own duty over my simple desires.” She patted his cheek gently. “You’ll understand in time, child. Until then, have patience.”

And with that, Wynne turned away from him and rejoined the enchanters. She disappeared behind a corner and was lost from view, the heavy sound of footsteps dying away soon after, but her words echoed in Callum’s mind long after she had departed.

Wynne thought him a child, just as Irving did – just as they all did. Well, he’d just have to prove them wrong. He was old enough now to undergo his Harrowing: all Callum needed to do was work hard enough to convince them he was ready. And then, once he was Harrowed, he’d have his way out.

“Move it, robes,” a rough voice grunted from behind him, and Callum was abruptly shoved out of the way by a heavy, mailed arm. The templar who had tried to stop him from talking to Wynne barged past him, glancing back at Callum with a grin that was barely visible beneath his helmet. Ordinarily, Callum would’ve been furious, and maybe even have shouted a few choice words at the brute. But the spark of hope in his heart warmed him like a fire, drowning out all else. Before long, he’d be free of this prison, with no templars to abuse or attack him. Maybe Jowan could come along too, once he’d been Harrowed himself. The idea of freedom was enough to make Callum want to skip with joy.

Life wouldn’t be easy outside the tower walls, but Callum was sure that, with Jowan beside him, the two of them could face up to anything – even the Blight.

Chapter Text

The first step Callum took outside Kinloch Hold, with Duncan by his side, was like none he’d ever taken before. His legs wobbled like jelly as the first breath of fresh air he’d taken in over a year hit him, and he almost reached out to grab onto the Grey Warden accompanying him. Only his will not to embarrass himself while still within sight of the templars bolstered his strength, and he inhaled more of the crisp outdoor air as he took another step outwards. Only when the doors to the tower closed behind him with a resounding boom did Callum allow himself to stagger. Duncan was there immediately, his arms around the young mage’s shoulders, as though he’d been anticipating as such.

“A-Ah, I...I’m sorry, ser- I mean, I’m s-sorry, commander.” Callum stammered out an apology as his head swam, blinking furiously as the light from the setting sun dazzled him with its sheer brightness.

“Nothing to apologise for,” the Warden replied, keeping a firm grip on Callum as he helped him stay standing. “As I understand it, it has been some time since you or your fellow apprentices set foot outside this tower at all.”

Callum nodded, taking another calming gulp of air. “We...used to be allowed outside for exercise once a week, but one of the mages...used that time to escape.”

Duncan let out a snort through his nose that may have resembled a laugh, but his stern expression didn’t change. “Yes, I believe Irving told me that particular story. Is it true he swam all the way to the shore?”

“That’s what I heard,” Callum said, feeling spreading back into his feet at last. “He was caught in West Hill, trying to buy passage to the Free Marches. I...I think I’m alright now, commander.”

Duncan let go at last, and Callum just about managed to avoid wobbling as he resumed his pace. The breeze was enough to make his sensitive eyes water, but he focused on the large blur beneath his feet that he knew to be the ground as he continued walking away from the tower that had been a prison to him for so long.

“Just let me know if you need my assistance again,” the man said. “And, please, ‘Duncan’ is fine.”

A few moments of silence passed, before Callum blurted out, “Thank you. F-For doing this, I mean. Before you stepped in, I thought the only thing that awaited me would be either a Tranquil brand or Aeonar. But now...” Callum let out a giggle in his excitement. “A Grey Warden! I was hoping I’d be able to leave the tower in order to fight the darkspawn, but this is beyond anything I could’ve imagined!”

Although the combination of bright sunlight reflecting off the lake surface and the water flooding his eyes made seeing Duncan properly impossible, Callum could feel the Warden’s steely gaze upon him.

“Becoming a Grey Warden is nothing to take so lightly,” he warned, although his tone was stern rather than aggressive. “It is a lifelong duty, and you will face a great many hardships. When the time comes, you may wish I had left you in the tower.”

Callum couldn’t help but scoff lightly. “I very much doubt that! I’d rather be dead and devoured by darkspawn than go to Aeonar.”

Duncan made a ‘hmm’ noise, but passed no further comment.

“...So, what exactly is involved in becoming a Grey Warden?” Callum asked, after a few moments had passed. “I imagine one has to swear a vow of neutrality, of course. Presumably, I’ll be made to study the darkspawn in detail before facing them myself. The Wardens are some of the most powerful warriors in Thedas, so I expect there’ll be some strict training regimens, but-”

“Have patience, Callum,” Duncan said, a light chuckle audible in his voice. “Your curiosity is understandable, but there will be time for questions and answers before long.”

Soon, they had reached the island shore, where a templar awaited to ferry them across Lake Calenhad. From there, they would make their way south to join the king’s army. Callum had made sure to dry his eyes thoroughly with the sleeves of his new robes before they reached the templar, although he was sure they were watching him intently from beneath their helmet all the same. Not that it bothered him, of course.

It’s just one more templar, he thought. Then I’ll never have to worry about them keeping their beady little eyes on me ever again.

The trip across the lake was carried out in near-silence, the sound of the ferryman’s oars the only ones to be heard. Callum watched as Kinloch Hold grew smaller and smaller as they drifted further away from the island, until it was a mere shadow lost behind the mists, blotting out the sun as it set. The sight filled him with a strange bittersweet sensation: after all, the Circle had been a home to him as much as it had been a prison. While he’d lived in fear of the templars, he’d also made numerous friends. And now, he’d likely never see them again. That was the price to pay for his newfound freedom. And the fact that Jowan had...

Callum’s gut lurched. Not Jowan. Don’t think about that.

The shores of Lake Calenhad appeared out of the dusky gloom before long, and they reached the docks just as the sun sank below the horizon. Duncan thanked the templar for their help, to which they responded by nodding silently, never removing their gaze from the mage boy they had escorted. Callum ignored the templar, as he had done for the entire journey across the lake, and left the docks with Duncan by his side. The Grey Warden announced then that they would be spending the night in a local tavern, as it was too late to begin their journey south that evening. Said tavern was named The Spoiled Princess, and was located only a short distance from the docks. Duncan gave the unsmiling innkeeper a pair of sovereigns before they were led to their room for the night. Duncan bid him goodnight, and they settled into their beds.

 

 

But Callum didn’t sleep.

He couldn’t, in fact. Every time he closed his eyes, images flashed in his mind like fever dreams: candlelight shining off of the helmets of templars as he was led wordlessly to the Harrowing Chamber; the “apprentice” he’d met in the Fade grinning with far too many teeth as his form grew larger and larger; a crushed phylactery lying on the floor; Jowan standing in the centre of a circle of fallen templars, wide-eyed with fear and drenched in blood...

Callum didn’t remember getting out of bed, or walking out of the inn. His legs carried him to the edge of Lake Calenhad without his mind fully registering it. When he came back to himself, he was shivering in the cold night air, looking out across the water. The mists had cleared, and the light from the moons illuminated the form of the Circle tower, its white walls gleaming like a beacon in the darkness. The sight of it made a lump form in his throat that refused to dislodge itself no matter how hard he tried. Taking in the view of the tower from this distance, it was hard for him not to think about the things he didn’t want to think about.

Callum didn’t feel things in bits and pieces. More often than not, he was a slave to his own emotions – it was the reason why he could never stand by and allow a templar to harass or abuse a mage without attempting to intervene. It was the reason why he’d gotten physically involved with so many of his peers, despite the danger of being caught. He’d even hesitated for a moment when “Mouse” had pleaded with him to allow him access to his body: the consequences of which, he knew, would have been utterly disastrous. And it was the reason why he had helped his closest friend attempt to escape the Circle rather than allow him to be made Tranquil. Because of that, more than likely, neither he nor Jowan would ever see each other again. And Lily had been sent off to Aeonar, from which she would never return.

If he could turn back time, Callum wondered as he stared out across the lake, would he have made the same decisions? But the thought of Irving’s old face simpering at him as he sold out the person he’d trusted most in the world revolted Callum more than even the idea of his best friend turning out to be a blood mage. Jowan would still have been apprehended, as would his lover. Nothing would have changed, except that Callum would have remained in the tower as nothing more than a pawn for another of Irving’s schemes. No, he’d made the right choices. He was free now – as free as a Grey Warden could ever be, of course. Never again would he set foot inside a Circle, or plead with a templar for leniency, or sleep in a chamber with fifty others his own age. So why did looking upon Kinloch Hold like this fill his heart with such melancholy? Sometimes, Callum wanted to curse himself for being so soft.

“Callum...”

The mage sitting by the water’s edge jumped as a voice from behind called his name. He twisted, reaching for his staff, only to see Duncan standing a short distance away. The man had neglected to don his armour again, and was clad in merely a plain tunic and breeches. It was quite a stark contrast from the impression Callum had originally received of the Warden-Commander in his silverite mail, although the old man’s face was as stern and impassive as it had ever been.

“Duncan,” he muttered in surprise. “I thought you were asleep...?”

“I was,” the man admitted, “until I heard you slipping out. What has brought you here so late, may I ask?”

Callum swallowed, turning his back on the Warden to face the water’s surface once again. “I couldn’t sleep. I thought...some fresh air might help.”

It wasn’t exactly a lie, but he was sure that the Warden-Commander had sensed the hesitance in his reply. There was a soft crunching sound of footfalls against the soft earth that drew nearer and nearer to Callum, who said nothing as Duncan sat down beside him. For some time, the two of them were quiet as they looked out across Lake Calenhad, taking in the beauty of the moonlight on the water. When Duncan finally broke the silence, his voice was almost as soft as the breeze.

“When I was scarcely more than a boy, I lost both of my parents to sickness. My father was a carpenter, my mother a grocer. They left me with nothing when they passed away, and I was forced to live out on the streets. Val Royeaux is one of the wealthiest cities in Thedas, and it pained and frustrated me to watch as people walked past me and the other smallfolk in the streets, carrying more wealth and finery on their persons than I could ever hope to obtain in a lifetime of honest living. For that reason, I turned to crime. It wasn’t an easy life, but it meant that I could get by without starving. And, what was more, taking from those who had plenty to give felt to me like a twisted sort of justice.

“One evening, I broke into an inn, planning to loot one of the rooms for whatever I could find. Unfortunately, the tenant in that particular room came across me, and confronted me over a small ring I had found. We fought, and I was able to overpower him, but even with a knife to his throat the man refused to surrender the ring to me. In the struggle, I fatally wounded him, and with his dying breath, the man thanked me. In my horror and confusion, I fled without taking what I had come for. The chevaliers found me the next morning and arrested me. I was informed that the man I had killed had been a Grey Warden, and I was thrown into a jail cell to await execution. But on the eve before I was due to be executed, a woman in shining silverite armour visited my cell. Her name was Genevieve, and she was the Warden-Commander of Orlais. I expected her to be angry and vengeful towards me for being responsible for the death of one of her men, but instead, she surprised me by offering to make me a Warden myself.”

Callum stared at him, his mouth slightly agape. “And...I take it you accepted this offer.”

Duncan shook his head. “I did not. I thought of the man who had thanked me as he lay dying, and refused to let myself become like him. I stayed in my cell that night, lying awake until the sun had risen, at which point I was dragged out of my cell and brought to the gallows. But, to my astonishment, the Warden-Commander appeared once again. She invoked the Right of Conscription, forcibly recruiting me into the Wardens. The chevaliers had no choice but to let me go. At the time, I was furious, if you can believe it. But, over time, I grew thankful towards the Commander of the Grey for having saved my life. I was an angry young man – often even violent – but becoming a Grey Warden gave me a purpose far greater than simply my own survival.” Duncan turned to meet Callum’s gaze at last. “When I met you, and when I saw how you defended your friend Jowan even after seeing what he had done, it struck me how much you resembled me as a youth.”

“Is that why you recruited me?” Callum asked quietly.

The corners of Duncan’s mouth quirked ever so slightly upward for a moment. “Perhaps, in truth, that was part of it. But, more than that, I saw how you struggled in vain against a system that oppressed and hindered you. Your passion, even in the face of adversity, is something to be admired. But I knew you needed a purpose – something more than just lashing out at templars for the rest of your years. Becoming a Grey Warden can give you that purpose.” He paused for a moment. “Irving told me how you would intervene on behalf of your peers when they were being abused. The Blight threatens us all – not just a tower full of mages. Your passion and desire to save those in danger is why I believe you will make a fine Grey Warden.”

Callum’s heart swelled with pride upon hearing the Warden-Commander’s words. “Do you...really mean that?”

“I do.” Duncan nodded. “The darkspawn make for a relentless foe; life as a Warden requires vigilance, as well as an indomitable spirit. I know full well just how easy it is to give into despair when spending years in an environment like the Circle, or the city streets. Your will is strong. Hold onto it – you will need it to make it through the Joining.”

Callum frowned at him. “The Joining? Is that some sort of initiation ceremony?”

Duncan turned his head to look back out across the lake, the moonlight casting shadows on his face. “You will learn in time. For now, remember what I have told you. Becoming a Grey Warden is no small feat, but I believe you are more than capable.”

Callum’s head was bursting with questions, but the tone in Duncan’s voice implied that whatever answers he was looking for would need to wait. For a long time, the two of them sat in silence, watching the still waters of the lake shimmer in the moonlight.

“I will leave you be,” Duncan eventually said, breaking the silence once more as he got to his feet. “Take as long as you need to out here, but be sure to return to bed eventually. You have had a long day today, and the journey ahead of us is longer still.”

“Goodnight, Duncan,” Callum said as the man walked away.

“Goodnight.”

Callum was left alone with his thoughts once again, but the knot of anxiety that had ached him previously had been loosened by the commander’s words. Duncan had escaped a trying and brutal past to become a Grey Warden, and he was undoubtedly the only one to do so. Callum would leave the tragedy of the Circle of Magi behind him and start afresh as a Warden. Dwelling on the past would only serve to hold him back.

Callum exhaled, his breath clouding before his eyes as he stood up. With a lightness in his step he’d lacked since before his Harrowing, Callum walked back to the inn.

Chapter Text

Ostagar was bustling with people, the old Tevinter ruin brought to life once again by its new inhabitants. Everywhere Callum looked, there was life – soldiers training, merchants selling their wares, and he even caught sight of a handful of robed people around the area whom he recognised as being from the Circle. The air was filled with the sounds of men shouting, dogs barking from the kennels, and even a Chantry sister proclaiming the Word of the Maker from her makeshift pulpit.

Callum knew he must have looked a fool, standing around and staring openly at everything around him. But he’d only been out of the Circle for a few weeks now, and everything still seemed so new. He and Duncan had made only a few brief stops in a handful of small settlements as they had journeyed south, and none of them had been as densely-packed as Ostagar. And the atmosphere was nothing like the Circle, either: nowhere in Kinloch Hold would you see so many smiling faces or hear so many shouts of merriment. Callum had seen nothing like Ostagar since his mother had brought him to the Grand Tourney in Tantervale – so long ago that he could scarcely remember. The stands had been so full of people that the boy he’d been had thought them like an ocean of bodies, one that threatened to swallow him up. He could still feel himself clutching his mother’s hand tightly like a lifeline, not daring to let go for a single second for fear of losing her in the crowds...

Callum’s fingers curled involuntarily at the unbidden memory. He brought himself back to the present with a small shake of his head, almost imperceptible to any passers-by who may have been watching him. The memories Callum had of his time before the Circle were, in general, nothing he liked to linger on. Not that the years he had spent in that tower had been any better, of course. And anyway, all of that was behind him now. Soon, he would be made a fully-fledged Grey Warden, and devote the rest of his life to protecting the people of Thedas from the darkspawn. Of course, what exactly becoming a Warden entailed was still unknown: Duncan had expertly avoided any questions on the matter Callum had fired at him during their journey. Now that he’d been given leave to wander around the fortress at will, Callum had been determined to seek out his fellow recruits and probe them for information instead. Unfortunately, both of them seemed to be as much in the dark as he was.

“Duncan didn’t tell me nothin’,” Daveth had insisted with a shrug. “Seems like it’s a big Warden secret, or somethin’ like that. That’s what that Alistair fella told me, anyway.”

At Callum’s somewhat-dismayed expression, the former cutpurse had chuckled. “Ah, don’t worry about it. Doubt it’s anything too dodgy like blood magic or that kind of shit.”

His eyes had wandered lazily over to a nearby passing soldier – a broad-shouldered woman with a lance at her side – and so he’d missed Callum’s flinch.

Ser Jory, the other Warden-Recruit, had shown more concern.

“All this secrecy is...frustrating,” the knight had admitted. “I knew the Grey Wardens were a clandestine group, but why keep so much hidden from the people you’re recruiting?”

“I’m curious as well,” Callum had told him. “Duncan hasn’t told me anything about the Joining or what’s involved in it.”

“I hope it’s nothing too dangerous,” Jory had said. “I couldn’t bear to put my wife through the hardship of raising our child alone.”

“I’m sure it’s not too late to leave here and return home. Duncan would probably understand.”

But Jory had merely shook his head and said, “I’m doing this for her, and for our unborn babe. The Blight is coming, and the people need Grey Wardens to hold back the darkspawn. This cause is noble – I would be a coward to flee now.”

That only left Alistair to talk to, but the man seemed impossible to find amongst the throngs of people in Ostagar. Lowborn and highborn soldiers alike filled the area, ready to stand side-by-side for the first time in order to combat the Blight. More disturbingly, Callum caught sight of a handful of templars dotted around the area, each one clad in their disgustingly-bright armour, with the Sword of Mercy emblazoned upon their chests. They barred the way to the area containing the Circle mages, whom Callum could see were currently engaged in a ritual. He didn’t want to draw too near, but he spotted a woman he recognised standing away from the templars, and gravitated towards her instead.

Senior Enchanter Wynne smiled upon seeing Callum approaching. “So, you’ve reached Ostagar after all, my child. How was your journey?”

“Tiring,” he replied honestly. “But I can’t rest now. The darkspawn are coming, and the Wardens have much to prepare.”

“Then it’s true?” she arched an eyebrow at him. “You’ve been recruited as a Warden?”

Callum couldn’t help but grin with pride. “Shows what those stuck-up templars in the tower knew. Greagoir told me I’d never amount to anything – well, who’s still stuck in the Circle now?”

Wynne’s mouth turned into a hard line. “Knight-Commander Greagoir ought to have chosen his words more carefully, I will admit. But pride often comes before a fall, my dear. Did your Harrowing teach you nothing?”

Callum’s grin faded. Oh, the things he could tell her of the events of his Harrowing and the aftermath, if he truly wanted to shock her. “It taught me many things, but only confirmed my belief that the templars are just biding their time before they have an excuse to cut us down.”

She kneaded her forehead. “I see. Well, putting that aside, it is good to see another familiar face so far from our home.”

“From your home,” Callum couldn’t help but interject. “I’m no longer a member of the Circle of Magi.”

Wynne smiled. “I don’t believe it’s as simple as you think. The Circle is not a place, but rather a people. You won’t find it so easy to leave behind you.”

Just watch me, he wanted to tell her. Instead, he said, “We’ll see.”

“Whatever the case may be,” Wynne went on, “I am glad to see you devoting your talents to helping people. The Blight is a grave threat – one we mages are believed to have been responsible for bringing into the world. As a result, I feel it is our duty to aid those who would fight it.”

Callum resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He’d spent most of his life hearing those very words from the Chant: that the darkspawn were a punishment from the Maker upon His people for turning from him. People – most often templars – cited that ancient text all the time as their basis for oppressing mages. He was more than a little tired of it.

“Even if the stories are true,” he said, “neither you nor I hold any responsibility for the actions of a small group of tyrants from over a thousand years ago. We’re victims of the Second Sin as much as anyone.”

There was a strange sort of look in Wynne’s gaze that reminded Callum sickeningly of pity. “Perhaps if everyone thought as you do, the world could be a safer place for mages. Alas, we must adapt accordingly.”

“Do what they tell you”, she means. Templars, the Chantry, non-mages – all those who had no idea what it was like to be born with magic flowing through their veins. “Do as they say, and they will not harm you.”

Callum thought of Feyren, back in Kinloch Hold, who’d broken no rules that had caused Porter to try and force himself upon him. And he was far from the only such person who’d had unspeakable cruelties done to them simply for the crime of being a mage. Anger swelled within him, but he swallowed it down with a great deal of effort.

“It was lovely speaking to you, Senior-Enchanter,” he lied, his voice flat.

“The feeling is mutual, my child. Good day.”

Callum was still in a foul mood when he came across another mage separated from the group a short time later. He recognised the man as an enchanter, although the two of them had never properly met before. He was talking heatedly to a young, blond-haired man roughly Callum’s age, who was clad in armour. As Callum approached, he came within earshot of the discussion – or argument, rather.

“...Haven’t Grey Wardens asked more than enough of the Circle?” the enchanter asked in an exasperated voice.

“I simply came to deliver a message from the Revered Mother, ser mage,” the young man replied breezily, seemingly totally unaware of the mage’s irritation. “She desires your presence.”

“What Her Reverence desires is of no concern to me,” the enchanter said bitterly. “I am busy helping the Grey Wardens – by the king’s orders, I might add!”

“Should I have asked her to write a note?”

The mage’s jaw clenched. “Tell her I will not be harassed in this manner!”

Callum could only see the side of the younger man’s face, but didn’t fail to miss the sarcastic tone in his voice. “Yes, I was harassing you by delivering a message.”

“Your glibness does you no credit,” the enchanter growled.

“Here I thought we were getting along so well! I was even going to name one of my children after you...the grumpy one,” he added petulantly.

“Enough!” the enchanter snapped. “I will speak to the woman if I must. Get out of my way, fool!”

And with that, he stormed off, nearly barging past Callum. He glanced over his shoulder at the departing man, debating internally whether or not to follow him, before a voice called him out of his thoughts.

“You know...one good thing about the Blight is that it brings people together.”

The young man had come over to join Callum, his mouth forming a sardonic grin. Now that they were face-to-face, Callum could finally get a good look at him. The man’s skin was a gentle bronze colour, much darker than Callum’s pale complexion. Despite his youthful looks, he had a thin layer of stubble coating the lower half of his face. He had big, brown eyes that reminded Callum oddly of a puppy’s, and coupled with the blond hair that sat atop his head, the man would have been the picture of innocence had he not just witnessed him backtalking the enchanter. Now that the two of them were so close, Callum couldn’t help but be aware of how big the man was – not merely tall, but broad also – and the intimate thoughts that sprang unbidden from his mind make Callum’s throat feel suddenly as dry as sandpaper.

“What...?” he croaked, immediately clearing his throat in an attempt to loosen his now-stiff vocal cords.

The man spread his arms wide, gesturing to the area around them. “Look around us: friends and enemies, smallfolk and tallfolk, mages and non-mages all coming together in beautiful harmony. Brings a tear to my eye, so it does.” He wiped the imaginary tear away, his grin only fading once he’d caught sight of the unimpressed look Callum was giving him. “Wait...we haven’t met, have we? I don’t suppose you happen to be another mage?”

The tone in his voice ignited the spark of anger within Callum that had died down after he’d seen the swordsman’s handsome face. “Why do you ask? Do all people in robes look the same to you?”

The man grimaced, sucking in air through his teeth. “That’d be a ‘yes’, then,” he muttered under his breath. “And here I thought I’d been yelled at by every mage in camp.”

Callum raised an eyebrow, unamused. “Oh, so that wasn’t preferential treatment you were giving the man who just left?”

“Ah, so you overheard that little chat.” At least he had the decency to look sheepish. “Sorry. It’s just that...well, you probably already know, but the Circle is here at the king’s request. And the Chantry doesn’t like that one bit. They just love letting mages know how unwelcome they are.”

“Tell me about it,” Callum grumbled.

“But it puts me in an awkward position,” the young man went on. “I was once a templar.”

Callum took a reflexive step back, prompting the other man to add, “I never officially joined the Order, don’t worry. I was fortunately recruited into the Grey Wardens before I completed my training, despite the Chantry’s protests.”

The Grey Wardens. Callum recalled the enchanter having mentioned as much before he’d left. “Then...are you Alistair?”

The man smiled weakly, waving a gauntlet-covered hand in greeting. “That’d be me, yes. And since you know who I am, I think I can hazard a guess who you are: Duncan’s new recruit from the Circle of Magi. I should’ve recognised you right away. I apologise.”

Callum couldn’t help but still be wary of the man – the Warden. He didn’t draw any closer, watching silently as Alistair lowered his hand again awkwardly.

“Right.” Alistair coughed quietly. “Well, anyway, I’m sure the Revered Mother meant it as an insult, sending me as her messenger. And the mage picked right up on that.” He frowned. “I never would have agreed to deliver it, but Duncan says we’re all to cooperate and get along. Apparently, they didn’t get the same speech.”

“Can’t say I blame the enchanter,” Callum said. “You certainly didn’t act as though you wanted to ‘cooperate and get along’.”

Alistair sighed. “I’m sure Duncan will say the same once he hears about this. He’ll probably have a lecture already prepared for me when we see him again.” He kneaded his forehead. “Just like me to muck things up already.”

Callum was surprised by how down on himself Alistair had become, and so quickly. It was remarkable how easily the young Warden’s cocky exterior had been eroded to reveal the vulnerable boy beneath. It was almost enough to make Callum feel sorry for having been rude to him. Almost.

“We’d better find Duncan, in that case,” Callum said, already making to depart. “He’s been talking about this ‘Joining’ that we recruits have to undergo...”

“Ah, can we hold on just a minute?”

Callum glanced back to see Alistair standing in the same spot, eyes rooted to the ground.

“I, erm...I feel as though we may have gotten off on the wrong foot.”

Callum couldn’t help but shoot back, “Oh, do you?”

“I’ll admit you probably didn’t get the best first impression of me,” Alistair said, eyes not moving from the spot roughly a yard in front of his toes. “But the fact of the matter is we’re both going to be Grey Wardens – comrades-in-arms – from this day forward. We may not always have to get along, but we can’t afford to clash with the Blight brewing.”

“So...you’re suggesting we kiss and make-up?” Callum quirked an eyebrow at him.

“Maybe not in those words, exactly, but yes.” He lifted his head to meet Callum’s eye. “I promise I’ll be more respectful of mages. Does that make you feel better?”

Callum grunted. “So long as I don’t have to be more respectful of templars, then yes. It does.”

Alistair cracked a smile. “I suppose it’s a good thing I’m not a templar, then?”

Callum stared at him, resisting the abrupt and overpowering urge to smile back. His face felt unusually hot all of a sudden. He turned his back on the Warden in order to hide the peculiar tinge of pink that was no doubt visible in his cheeks.

“And I suppose it’s a good thing you’re pretty,” he announced, allowing himself a grin at last upon hearing Alistair’s splutter.

Chapter Text

Callum couldn’t breathe.

His lungs heaved and strained, searching desperately for air, but there was little to be found. The space around him was filled with the acrid stench of burning flesh, which filled Callum’s nostrils and made his stomach roil. He was surrounded by the chilling sounds of screams and clashing metal. Smoke clouded his vision as he stumbled forward in his search for a way out, limbs flailing wildly as panic took hold of him. He could feel tears pooling in his burning eyes before streaming down his cheeks. He choked as a new odour reached him, far more foul than the first. It was a stench he’d only come to recognise recently, but had already become utterly unforgettable.

It was the smell of darkspawn.

They were all around him now, he could tell – vague forms flitting through the smoke, growls cutting through the din of battle, sounding too guttural and unnatural to be human speech. They could sense his presence – the corruption in his blood now marking him as tainted – and were closing in. There was no escape. Callum began to sob, his head growing light and faint with the lack of clean air. A shape lurched out of the darkness, face twisted in perverse fury, blade glinting in the half-light. With what little strength he possessed, Callum threw himself forwards in an attempt to escape the hurlock’s strike, but a sharp sting across the back of his leg told him it had been in vain. He yowled in pain, already feeling blood spilling out from the fresh wound in his calf as he clattered to the ground, winding himself as he collided with the hard earth. Callum wept openly in terror now as the darkspawn surrounded him, just barely visible through the smoke and tears.

But now there was another shape rising before him, further away than the nearby darkspawn, but much, much larger. It drew itself up above their heads like a tower, its shadow swallowing them all up in its immense size. Its head was like that of a serpent, with dripping fangs too large to fit inside its gaping maw. As Callum stared, unable to tear his eyes away from the beast, it spread its massive wings and let out a screeching howl. It looked like a dragon, from the pictures Callum had seen in storybooks a lifetime ago, but no picture compared to the aberration before him now. Its scales were dark, sickly purple, and they looked to be rotting away from its flesh. It bore down on him, neck looming towards him out of the smoke, its eyes locked directly on his prone form.

The dragon-thing bellowed its rage once again, glowing flame building up in its mouth like a furnace. With another howl of fury and fire, the burning purple flame was released, screaming towards Callum as he lay there on the ground, unable to move or cry out. The flames reached him, licking at his feet firstly, before moving up to envelop his entire body. The pain was unimaginable – as though the flesh was being flayed bit by bit away from his bones, fire eating into him and devouring his very being.

Callum screamed, thrashing against the soft blanket that constricted him, body drenched in a cold sweat that seeped into the sheets. He gasped in lungfuls of sweet air, panic dying away as he realised he’d merely been having a nightmare – albeit one more vivid and visceral than any he’d experienced before. He shivered in the sudden chill, sheets sticking to his clammy skin. He was alive...

Alive?

The last thing Callum could remember (that he was certain hadn’t been a dream, at least) was being swarmed by darkspawn atop the Tower of Ishal, with no chance of escape. With no chance of survival.

And yet, here he was...wherever here was, exactly. Opening his eyes only showed him a dull, unfamiliar ceiling. The bed made a creaking sound of old wood beneath him as he slowly sat up, head still spinning from both weakness and the nightmare he’d just awoken from. He took in his surroundings as best he could, despite the ache in his body. The air stank of mould and dust, but there was a sweet scent wafting his way from somewhere nearby that made his stomach growl with need; he followed the scent, soon catching sight of a fireplace not far from the foot of his bed, above which a tin pot sat burbling. Callum’s vision swam, whether from fatigue or from the overpowering smell, he didn’t know. A blur of movement out of the corner of his eye drew his gaze to another person in the room – a woman with dark hair. She cast a gold-coloured eye in his direction, which widened ever so slightly as it took him in.

“Ah, I see your eyes have opened at last,” she said in a smooth voice. “Mother shall be pleased.”

Callum knew this woman. They’d met once before, only a short time ago. He recognised the sharp, angular features that marked her as one of the Chasind, and it would have been difficult to forget anyone clad as she was.

“Morrigan,” he murmured, although only half of the consonants made it out of his mouth.

“So you remember me, do you? And what of your rescue at the hands of my mother?”

Morrigan’s mother...the old crone who lived in a shack in the middle of the Korcari Wilds. Something about her had set Callum on edge, but she had been nothing but helpful in returning to them the Grey Warden treaties Duncan had asked them to obtain. And now, she had apparently rescued him, too...

“Then...I am alive?”

Morrigan barked a laugh. “If there is indeed an afterlife, and I sincerely doubt there is, I should hope ‘tis more accommodating than a dusty old shack in the woods!”

“You said...your mother...”

“Twas she who saved you, yes. As the darkspawn bore down upon you atop that tower, my dearest mother sought to rescue you. The wounds you sustained, while severe, were nothing she could not heal.”

Even having met the old woman once only, Callum didn’t doubt that sort of feat was beyond her means. But something wasn’t right...

“What...about the battle?” he managed to say. “The darkspawn...did we win?”

The way Morrigan faltered, her brow creasing into a small frown, told Callum everything he needed to know.

“Oh, Maker...”

“Please, you must remain calm,” Morrigan said, undoubtedly having noticed Callum’s breathing begin to quicken. “The battle the Grey Wardens fought, alongside the king’s forces, was in vain.”

Callum felt pinpricks of sweat creep up the back of his neck. “H-How...?”

“It appears that that man, Loghain, called his forces to a retreat after you and your companion lit the beacon. The darkspawn massacred the few soldiers who remained, including the king and your comrades in the Wardens.”

The revelation hit Callum like a physical blow to the chest, knocking the air out of his lungs. “The...the Wardens are...they...”

Morrigan was trying to calm him still, speaking placating words that couldn’t reach his ears. He could hear nothing now save for a dull ringing and the sound of his own heartbeat. He had only just joined the Grey Wardens, and now he was the only one left. Ferelden was doomed. The darkspawn had already lain waste to Ostagar, and would soon sweep across the land without anything or anyone to stop them. Duncan and Alistair...Jory and Daveth...all dead.

Everything around him blurred like oil on a canvas. His hands fumbled at the thin sheet covering his body as he clambered out of the bed, almost toppling to the floor in his daze. He felt a hand touch his shoulder, which he brushed off without a thought. He staggered away on limbs that barely seemed connected to his body. Callum staggered into something strong and wooden, and he fumbled for the door’s handle. There was a voice from behind him, saying something in stern tones, but no words could pierce the din of his own blood rushing in his ears. The door gave way at last under his pulling, and he stumbled out into the fresh air. He raced away from the witch’s shack, panic lending him speed. Where he went now and how he got there wouldn’t matter – nothing did anymore. He just needed to get away as fast as possible...

A heavy arm grabbed him by the shoulder and brought his blind sprint to a sudden halt. Callum cried out, twisted and tugging this way and that, but the hand had him firmly held. Someone was calling his name now. It wasn’t Morrigan this time, but a new voice, one he recognised.

“Callum! What in Andraste’s name are you doing?!”

The words jolted him right out of his panic, vision coming into sharp focus to reveal a familiar, young face staring at him as though he’d just sprouted a second head. For his part, Callum found himself able to do anything other than stare, open-mouthed, as his heartrate gradually began to decline.

“A...Alistair...?” he managed to grunt after some time. “Y-You’re...alive!”

Alistair spluttered. “Of course I’m alive! You’re the one who’s been unconscious for the last few days! I didn’t think you’d ever wake up! I was...”

Whatever Alistair had been about to say next died in his throat as Callum wrapped his arms around his chest tightly enough to squeeze the air out of his lungs. Tears prickled at the corners of Callum’s eyes, his chest wracked with a mixture of sobs and gasps for air. Alistair grunted in surprise, freezing in Callum’s embrace as though unsure what to do with himself. Eventually, Callum felt a pair of strong arms around his back returning the embrace, and before long, his heartbeat had returned to normal.

“I thought you were...the Wardens...” Callum was still having trouble formulating his thoughts into sentences, but Alistair seemed to understand.

“You and I are...the only survivors. The rest of the Wardens all perished in the battle.” Alistair swallowed as though trying to dislodge a lump in his throat. “We were betrayed by the teyrn.”

Callum pulled away from Alistair’s chest to meet his gaze. “But...why? Why would Teyrn Loghain do such a thing? Doesn’t he realise that he’s doomed Ferelden to be ravaged by the Blight?”

Alistair’s usually-bright eyes had grown dark at the mention of the teyrn’s name. “I don’t know why he did it, but I intend to find out – even if it means dragging the truth from his lips with his final breath. He’ll pay for this, mark my words. Him and all who stand with him.”

“My, how touching.”

The two men turned upon hearing the sarcastic voice, spotting Morrigan as she emerged from the shack, strolling over to join them with a gentle smirk.

“Do not allow me to interrupt this tender reunion,” she said, flicking a hand in their direction. “Please, carry on. I believe you were speaking about revenge, yes?”

Alistair stepped away from Callum, striding towards the apostate. Even with his back now turned from him, Callum could sense the anger radiating off of his comrade.

“Morrigan,” Alistair said in a loud voice, “did you tell Callum that I was dead?”

She sighed. “Not at all. I merely informed him of the tragic fate the Wardens met at the hands of the darkspawn and he rushed out in a panic before I could mention your survival.”

Callum’s face burned at the reminder of how he had lost control.

“Is that really true?” Alistair asked in an accusatory tone.

Morrigan looked genuinely affronted “’Tis. I don’t pretend to understand this...grudge against me you seem to bear, but I had no reason to intentionally hide your survival from him.”

“It was my fault, Alistair,” Callum said, intervening before the brewing quarrel could erupt. “When Morrigan told me about what happened at Ostagar, I...panicked. She couldn’t have known I would try to run away.”

Morrigan was staring at the young mage with a somewhat-concerned frown. “Indeed. Your sudden flight took me quite by surprise.”

“Hmm...” Alistair looked from one mage to the other, pursing his lips, eventually prompting Morrigan to throw her hands up in the air.

“Enough! What does this matter, next to the more pressing issue of the entirety of the ranks of Ferelden’s Grey Wardens being reduced to a pair of fledglings?”

“The spooky swamp woman has a point,” he grumbled, earning a dry laugh from Morrigan. “What can we do now? The Blight’s begun, and we’re the only Wardens left in Ferelden.”

“But not the only ones left in Thedas,” Callum pointed out, only for Alistair to shake his head.

“The nearest group of Grey Wardens would be in Orlais, and they’d have to pass through the Frostbacks to get to us. Even then, they wouldn’t come soon enough to save Ferelden. Not to mention the problem that I have no idea where we could find them in the first place. Orlais isn’t a small place, you know.”

Callum thought for a moment, trying desperately to come up with another solution. “Duncan mentioned the Wardens’ base of operations is in the Anderfels?”

“Weisshaupt Fortress, yes. Even further away than Orlais. Even if we sent word now, the Blight will have laid waste to Ferelden by the time reinforcements could arrive.”

“...Are there Grey Wardens in the Free Marches?”

“There are Grey Wardens in every part of Thedas, as far as I’ve been told,” Alistair replied. “But in trying to contact them, we’d run into the same problem as with the Orlesian Wardens.”

“’Twould be a waste of time trying to cross the seas,” Morrigan cut in. “It will not be long before the people of Ferelden will attempt to flee the darkspawn, many of them scurrying across the waves.”

Alistair grunted. “Exactly.”

Callum felt sick to his stomach. “Then...there really is nobody else? How...how in the name of Andraste can two people hope to stop a horde of darkspawn.”

“Well, now,” a familiar, creaky voice said, coming from somewhere behind him. “Giving up so easily?”

Callum and Alistair turned to see Morrigan’s mother, the so-called “Witch of the Wilds”, making her way slowly towards them, a basket clutched under her arm.

“What hope do the rest of us have if the Grey Wardens are so easily dissuaded from their path?” she said, eyes glittering with mirth rather than malice.

Callum gaped. “You...Morrigan told us you saved us from the darkspawn.”

“That I did,” the woman replied, hobbling past him as though she were nothing more than an aged crone. “Morrigan, be a dear and bring these inside.” She handed her daughter the basket she had been carrying. “I expect it’ll be time for dinner soon.”

“Yes, Mother.” Casting one final look at the two Wardens, Morrigan made her way back inside the hut.

“Not to sound ungrateful,” Alistair muttered, once Morrigan had departed, “but...why? Why save us?”

Why, he asks!” The old woman let out a chuckle. “It is as I told you when first we met – the Blight threatens us all. We cannot have all the Grey Wardens dying at once, can we? I may be an old hag who lives far, far away from the rest of the world, but even I know that only a Warden can slay an archdemon.”

Calum frowned. “Is that...true, Alistair?”

The other Warden nodded, as the crone narrowed her eyes.

“I see there is much they did not teach you in that tower of yours, my dear.”

“Nothing compared to what you and your daughter must know,” Callum admitted. “The Circle of Magi believes it’s more important to teach us not to use magic.”

The old woman let out a loud, throaty cackle. “Perhaps you did learn something there, after all. What is your name, child?”

“Callum. May I ask yours?”

“Such a polite young man,” she smiled back at him. “I have had many names over many years. The Chasind folk call me Flemeth – that will do.”

Callum felt his stomach lurch at the familiar name just as he caught sight of Alistair stiffening beside him.

The Flemeth...from the legends? Daveth was right – you’re the Witch of the Wilds, aren’t you?”

Flemeth raised a solitary eyebrow at Alistair. “And what does that mean? I know a bit of magic and it has served you both well, has it not?”

“Even if she is the real Flemeth, it doesn’t matter,” Callum said, trying to convince himself more than anything. “As of right now, we have to find a way to put a stop to the Blight.”

“And Loghain, too,” Alistair added darkly. “Once Arl Eamon finds out what he did at Ostagar, he’ll be the first to call for his execution.”

The name was unfamiliar to Callum. “Eamon?”

“The Arl of Redcliffe,” Alistair clarified. “He...raised me before I was taken in by the chantry.”

“Then should we go to him for aid?” Callum asked.

Alistair paused, thinking it over. “I suppose. He wasn’t at Ostagar; he still has all his men. And what’s more, he was Cailan’s uncle, and is respected in the Landsmeet.” His eyes brightened. “We could go to Redcliffe and appeal to him for help!”

Flemeth chuckled. “Such determination. How intriguing.”

“But even Arl Eamon’s aid might not be enough,” Alistair went on, now pacing back and forth as he planned. “He can’t defeat the darkspawn horde by himself...”

An image flashed in Callum’s mind: the ancient scrolls Flemeth had handed to them only days before.

“The treaties!” Callum exclaimed, almost startling himself in the process. “Alistair, did Duncan give-?”

“Yes, yes, he did!” Alistair’s expression lit up. “I still have the treaties! The Grey Wardens can demand aid from dwarves, elves, mages and other places! They’re obligated to help us during a Blight!”

“I may be old,” Flemeth interjected, “but dwarves, elves, mages, this Arl Eamon and who knows what else...this sounds like an army to me.”

The plan was coming together, slowly but surely. With Arl Eamon’s help, and by making use of the Grey Warden treaties, their chances of succeeding against the darkspawn would grow exponentially. Alistair turned to Callum now, with eyes ablaze with determination.

“So, can we do this?” he asked. “Go to Redcliffe and these other places and...and build an army?”

Callum blinked. “You’re asking me?”

“You’re a Grey Warden, now,” Alistair pointed out. “No less than I am. What do you think?”

Callum grimaced. Everything seemed to be spinning around him, out of control, just as it had when he’d panicked earlier on. In the space of a week, he’d undergone his Harrowing, lost his closest friend and his home, gained his freedom at the cost of becoming a Grey Warden, only to lost most of his newfound allies immediately after. It would have been enough to make anyone’s head spin, let alone someone whose emotions were difficult to control at the best of times. But Duncan had chosen him for a reason: he’d thought making Callum a Warden would give him purpose, a channel for his passion and will. Now, that will was burning inside him like a flame.

“We don’t have a choice,” Callum said. “We either seek out these people and ally ourselves with them, or watch Ferelden fall. And I’m not going to stand by and let innocent people die when I could have saved them.”

Alistair nodded. “You’re right. We either succeed or die trying.”

“Bold words, both of you,” Flemeth crowed, a gentle smirk curling her wrinkled lips. “We may yet stand a chance after all.”

“Thank you, Flemeth,” Callum said, bowing his head respectfully. It should have felt odd to show deference to this wizened old crone when he’d practically made a name for himself in the Circle by defying any and all authority. But there was something about this “witch” that marked her out as different. Even if she wasn’t the woman of legend, Callum knew that it must have taken great power to steal himself and Alistair away from atop the Tower of Ishal in the middle of the fray. Had he not had duties elsewhere, Callum might have considered staying in the Wilds to learn from Flemeth the ways of magic not taught by the Circle...

“We appreciate your help,” Alistair supplied.

Flemeth smiled again. “Now, there is one more gift I have for you both. Consider it repayment for saving your lives...”

At that moment, the door to the shack swung open once again and Morrigan emerged, bringing with her a pleasant scent of herbs and vegetables.

“The stew is bubbling, Mother dear,” she announced, sparing the Wardens a casual glance as she approached. “Shall we have two guests for the eve, or none?”

“The Grey Wardens are leaving shortly, girl,” Flemeth declared. “And you will be joining them.”

Both Morrigan and Alistair spluttered at the same time. “What?!”

Callum gaped. “I...appreciate this, Flemeth, but shouldn’t this decision be Morrigan’s?”

“Quite!” Morrigan snapped, folding her arms across her chest and glaring at her mother. “Have I no say in this at all?”

“You have been itching to get out of the Wilds for years,” Flemeth replied in a dismissive tone. “Here is your chance.”

Morrigan ground her teeth, while Alistair looked uneasily from mother to daughter.

“Not to...look a gift horse in the mouth,” he began, “but won’t this add to our problems? Out of the Wilds, she’s an apostate.”

Callum glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. “And what am I, then?”

“A Grey Warden,” Alistair shot back. “There’s a pretty major difference.”

Flemeth chortled. “And you think the templars will acknowledge that difference? Morrigan is no more at risk than your friend Callum.”

Alistair clenched his jaw. “You...you’re probably right. Make that two apostates, then.”

“If you do not wish help from us illegal mages,” Flemeth drawled, “perhaps I should have left you on that tower?”

“Point taken,” Alistair said, kneading his forehead.

Meanwhile, Morrigan was practically pleading with Flemeth. “Mother, this is not how I wanted this! I am not even ready-”

“You must be ready,” Flemeth interjected. “Alone, these two must unite Ferelden against the darkspawn. They need you, Morrigan. Without you, they will surely fail, and all will perish under the Blight. Even I.”

Morrigan inhaled, before letting the breath out slowly. “I understand.”

“And you, Wardens?” Flemeth turned to face the two of them once more. “Do you understand? I give you that which I value above all in this world. I do this because you must succeed.”

And Callum did understand. The fate of an entire nation was now resting squarely on the shoulders of him and Alistair. He was glad that Morrigan was coming along, in truth. This burden was too much for just two people to bear, Grey Wardens or not. Determination swelled in Callum – a different sort of fire from the anger or passion he was so used to.

“We won’t fail,” Callum vowed.

The smile on Flemeth’s face was as inscrutable as the woman herself. Callum saw a multitude of emotions flicker across Morrigan’s expression as she looked into his eyes.

“Allow me to get my things, if you please,” she said, after a few moments. With that, she turned and stalked her way back into the hut.

Chapter Text

Callum sat alone in the centre of camp, flames spreading their warm glow across his face and hands. The night air was still and calm, but the fire danced nonetheless. It was a welcome sensation after a full day of walking through cold and rain, and for the first time that day, Callum felt warmth begin to seep into his bones. Whatever pitiful flames he’d been able to conjure up with his own magic had been quick to gutter out and die under the relentless downpour; he’d never had much of an aptitude for Primal spells. Now that the storms had ceased, he was relieved to be able to sit by a warm campfire and soothe his weary body.

He closed his eyes. It was still there – lurking near the back of his skull like an irritating buzzing sound that never fully faded away. Maybe it was just because the horde was still relatively close by, or perhaps it would always be there, now that he had become a Grey Warden. Either way, it was difficult to ignore his newly added sense for darkspawn.

Alistair had explained it to him earlier that day as they’d marched steadily northward: accepting the darkspawn taint into one’s body allowed them to tap into the creatures’ collective mind. This was what granted Wardens their ‘sixth sense’ that let them know when darkspawn were near. Conversely, it made them more visible to the darkspawn in turn. It was fortunate, Calum reflected, that they had passed by the bulk of the horde already by making use of the Imperial Highroad. When the darkspawn were nearby, the presence of himself and Alistair would be difficult to hide.

From high in the branches above his head, a crow squawked.

The more Callum learned about the Wardens, the more he began to understand why the organisation kept so many secrets. It didn’t make it right in his eyes, of course, but it was easier for him to comprehend. Jory and Daveth had lost everything in the Joining, and Callum knew it was mostly luck that had kept him from sharing their fate. And even if they had survived, they would still have perished in the battle that followed. All thanks to Loghain.

Even a foreigner to Ferelden like Callum had heard tales of Teyrn Loghain, the brilliant tactician who had risen from peasantry to become one of the most powerful people in the kingdom due to his role in ending the Orlesian occupation of his homeland. Plenty of the born-and-bred Fereldan mages he’d known from the Circle had been full of stories about the exploits of the late King Maric and his famed right-hand man. But the cold man Callum had met at Ostagar had been a far cry from the legends. And now, he had almost doomed the land he’d once done so much to save. Callum could ‘ve marched all the way to Denerim just to ask him why.

Callum’s brooding must have been obvious, for his thoughts were interrupted by something warm and fuzzy nudging his side. He looked to his right to see a massive, brown dog with wide, black eyes and a wide snout, pushing the top of its head into Callum’s arm, whining almost silently. He chuckled and gave the dog a fond pat on the head, making its tongue drop out of its mouth as the mabari began to pant happily.

“Don’t worry about me, Barkspawn,” Callum murmured to his companion. “I’m alright.”

Above their heads, the crow let out another caw, followed by the flapping of wings as it took flight. A small, dark shape dropped down gently from the canopy, landing quietly on its clawed feet next to Callum and the campfire. The crow regarded him silently through a single beady eye, Callum meeting its gaze evenly. He blinked, and suddenly it was Morrigan who was now crouching beside him.

She brushed a solitary feather off of her shoulder and said, “I simply cannot believe you called that beast ‘Barkspawn’, of all the ridiculous names.”

Callum scratched Barkspawn behind the ears. “I think it suits him. What do you think, boy?”

The mabari let out a merry bark, nuzzling his head against Callum’s fingers.

Callum beamed proudly. “See? He loves it.”

Morrigan rolled her eyes. “Doubtless that mongrel would be satisfied with whatever ludicrous name you gave it.”

Barkspawn barked again in the affirmative, making Callum giggle.

“So, where were you?”

Morrigan lifted her head in a haughty manner. “I see no reason why that is any of your concern.”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” Callum told her, with a small shrug. “I just assumed that you’d have plenty of interesting tales of your time spent as a crow to share.”

“You assume much,” she replied. “Even if I wished to, I could not accurately describe to you, nor anyone else, how it feels to soar through the skies as a bird. Or what it means to have the wind carry you so high that the ground vanishes beneath your feet. Human language simply cannot convey the experience.”

It sounded amazing to Callum. He’d long been curious of the many schools of magic that the Circle of Magi did not teach – or outright forbade. And here was a mage who has grown up utterly removed from the Circle, right before him. It frustrated him how little Morrigan was willing to disclose about her shapechanging.

Doing his best to hide his disappointment, Callum asked, “And what of the darkspawn? Did you catch sight of any?”

Morrigan paused, before shaking her head. “Alas, I did not travel far enough from camp to lay eye upon the horde. We have been most fortunate the darkspawn have kept their distance.”

“I think so too. And thank you for telling me.”

She sniffed. “Tis nothing to be grateful for.”

“Well, I can certainly sleep easier now that I don’t have to worry about the darkspawn horde trampling through our tents, at least.”

A ghost of a smile played on Morrigan’s lips. “That...would put an end to your quest quite abruptly.”

“It’s your quest too,” Callum pointed out with a snort. “Unless you want Ferelden to be overrun by the Blight?”

“Don’t be absurd,” she told him.

“Then it looks like we’re in this together.”

Morrigan’s eyebrows moved closer together as she frowned. “Why are you so determined to...befriend me in this manner?” She said the word as though it were the name of a foreign delicacy she’d never heard of before.

Callum took a deep breath. “Well, you’ve been an apostate for much longer than I have and I’d be intrigued to learn more about how you lived outside the Circle and how you’ve avoided the templars’ notice and what magicks you know and what Flemeth has taught you and how your mother is apparently a centuries-old witch of legend and how you can turn into animals and-”

“Enough, please.” Morrigan held her hand up to silence the verbal onslaught coming from Callum. “Do I truly fascinate you so much?”

“Yes,” Callum said earnestly. “All my life I’ve been living in captivity, but you have more freedom than anyone. What’s not fascinating about that?”

Morrigan scoffed. “If you knew my mother as I do, you wouldn’t call my life ‘free’. She is not always as pleasant as she is when we have guests.”

Callum’s stomach sank. “Sorry. I...didn’t realise.”

“Do not apologise. The lessons Flemeth taught me were harsh – often times cruel – but necessary. It is from her that I learned the ways of not only magic, but the world at large. She told me of kings and nobles, templars and peasants: all necessary things a young woman should know. Of course, as I grew older, my curiosity got the better of me. I made many brief forays out of the Wilds and into more ‘civilised’ parts of the land. They did much to prepare me for what Flemeth could not.”

“I see...”

Her eyes narrowed. “Is that a look of pity I see? Oh, do spare me.”

“I’m not trying to patronise you,” Callum began, only to be cut off by Morrigan.

“I rather doubt that. Men are always willing to believe two things about a woman – one, that she is weak, and two, that she is attracted to him.”

Callum winced. “Well, I’m quite certain you aren’t attracted to me.”

“And always,” Morrigan went on, “they will deny these things.”

He sighed. “I’m just...I can empathise.”

“Is that so?” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Was your mother also a Witch of the Wilds?”

“Well, no, but...”

“Then what is it you supposedly empathise with?” she asked in an accusing tone.

Callum hesitated. “I...when I was young, my grandfather taught me some harsh lessons, also. He had an image in his mind of how he wanted me to be, then tried to mould me into it. But I was a stubborn child. There was a lot of shouting, frequent beatings...” He felt his hands clench into fists unbidden as the memory arose from the depths of his subconscious. “I was angry...so, so angry with him.”

“...And I suppose you realised later that he merely had your best interests at heart?”

“Hmm?” Callum looked back up at Morrigan. “Oh, no. One day, I’d simply had enough, and so I lashed out with a telekinetic spell when he tried to strike me. Knocked the old man clear off his feet.”

Morrigan’s mouth fell open, corners of her lips twitching with suppressed mirth. Then, all at once, she began to laugh – soft peals erupting from her like birdsong – nothing at all like the throaty cackles of her mother.

“My, my,” she said, once her laughter had died away. “I’m both impressed and yet curiously unsurprised.”

“Don’t get your hopes up, mind,” Callum said. “The templars came for me the next day. They cornered me in public and dragged me away to the Circle. My grandfather had turned me in – not that I’d expected anything else of him. Still, I relish that last memory I have of the old man. It’s stuck with me through everything else.”

“I can imagine.” Morrigan was looking at him again through those mysterious, golden eyes. “You’re quite the curious thing, aren’t you? I had thought all Circle mages to be little more than cattle – grown meek and lazy under the templars’ watch. But you...perhaps Mother was right about you, after all.”

“And what does that mean?” Callum asked, rather incensed by her blithe comment about Circle mages.

She smiled. “We shall see, I believe.”

And with that, Morrigan got to her feet. She gave him a small nod of farewell before turning and stepping silently away from him. Callum watched her go – questions buzzing in his head far more than the voices of darkspawn were. Beside him, Barkspawn lifted his head and nuzzled his master once again.

“I know, boy, I know.” Callum stroked the dog’s neck. “But I don’t think she’s going to hurt us.”

Barkspawn’s mouth opened wide in a massive yawn, which Callum soon mimicked.

“You’re right – it’s late.” Callum stood up and stretched, joints cracking. “Long past your bedtime, I might add.”

Barkspawn barked, eagerly following Callum into his tent. It was easier to fall asleep with the mabari’s warmth beside him, and Callum soon drifted away, with visions of darkspawn flashing in his mind again.

Chapter Text

“Of all the blasted, Maker-damned, blighted, bloody things...!”

Alistair practically crashed through the tavern door, back out into the relatively-fresh air. The combined noise of this and his infuriated shouting was enough to draw plenty of startled stares from nearby villagers, and even sent a handful of ravens fluttering out of a tree some distance away, squawking in surprise. The Grey Warden was quickly followed by two scowling mages, a somewhat-perplexed redheaded woman, and a large dog – all leaving the tavern after him. The noise from within faded as the door was closed behind them.

Alistair was still uttering threats in a voice strangled with rage. “When I get my hands on that treasonous bastard...!”

Morrigan rolled her eyes. “Yes, who could ever have imagined that the man who betrayed his king and allowed his countrymen to be slaughtered would lie to his people? Did you think Loghain would have no scapegoat prepared in the wake of the battle?”

“You, know funnily enough,” Alistair growled through gritted teeth, “I hadn’t thought about it.”

That is hardly surprising.”

“Morrigan has a point,” Callum muttered. “We should have realised Loghain would try to pin the blame on the Wardens for what happened at Ostagar.”

Alistair whirled, glaring daggers at his fellow Warden. “You’re taking her side?!”

“Why must you act like such a child?”

“Morrigan.” Callum turned his gaze on the witch, who sighed, but did not say anything else. Moving back to Alistair, he continued on. “You have every right to be angry, Alistair. I am too. But we need to be more aware of who and what we’re up against. Loghain’s famed for being a ruthless and peerless tactician: he won’t just sit by and let us do as we please once he discovers we’re alive.”

“Which won’t be long,” the newcomer of the group pointed out. “We sent those men from the tavern running back to Denerim with their tails between their legs!”

“So we have to proceed with caution. Things will only get more dangerous for us the closer we get to the capital.”

Alistair ground his teeth, before letting out a rueful sigh. “I understand what you’re saying. But, by Andraste’s teeth, I just can’t believe it. Arl Eamon would never stand for this!”

“The teyrn is a powerful man,” Leliana said, frowning worriedly. “And politics is a dangerous game.”

“Which is why we have to gather as many allies as we can before we try to challenge him,” Callum said. “And until then, I’ve no doubt that Loghain will throw everything he can at us.”

The group reached the centre of the village once again, coming to a halt by the bridge over the stream. Callum had passed through Lothering briefly with Duncan on his way south, and he hadn’t thought much of it at the time. Now, the place was worse than ever – packed to bursting with refugees both young and old, price-gauging merchants looking to make a quick sovereign, Chasind Wilders fleeing their homes, and frazzled templars trying to impose order on them all. Quietly, Callum was thankful for the chaos – if only because it kept the templars from noticing the pair of apostates in their group.

“Where to now?” Alistair pondered aloud, seemingly making an effort to calm himself down after the scuffle in the tavern. “Obviously, there’s no room to stay the night here. And I was so looking forward to a bed covered in fleas.”

“There’s still plenty of people here who could use your help,” Leliana piped up. “The Chantry and the templars have stretched themselves thin trying to lend a hand to the refugees.”

“What do you think?” Callum glanced at Morrigan, who raised a haughty eyebrow at him.

“Am I allowed to contribute to this discussion, now?” she asked archly.

Now who’s being a child?” Alistair muttered.

“Alistair.”

“...Sorry, Callum.”

“I see little point in dawdling here,” Morrigan said, “since you seem to be wondering. The darkspawn are on their way, as are reinforcements from Loghain, most likely. Besides the smell of manure and overwhelming atmosphere of dread, what is keeping us here, precisely?”

“This is going to be the only town we visit for a while,” Callum reminded her. “We need to stock up on as many supplies as we can carry.”

“Then I shall take charge of that particular duty,” Morrigan announced. “I will purchase as many poultices as we can.”

“Here’s the purse with our funds.” Callum gave her a small sack full of coin, which jingled quietly as it passed from hand to hand. “Make sure to get some bandages, too,” he told her as Alistair gaped.

“You can’t be serious! Do you really trust her with something that important?”

“And I suppose you expect I will simply run off with the money and goods?” Morrigan accused him.

“I didn’t say that,” Alistair muttered.

“Tis what you meant, though, is it not?”

Callum sighed, cutting off whatever Alistair had been about to retort with. “Leave her be, Alistair. Morrigan, I appreciate you doing this, but you’d better head off before you aggravate Alistair any further. Leliana, could you go with her?”

“Of course,” she said, only for Morrigan to interject.

“I am perfectly capable of making this trip alone. Are you afraid I shall be accosted by templars?”

“Honestly,” Callum said, “yes. I don’t trust them to let you wander about the place by yourself. Please, Morrigan.”

She sniffed. “Very well. But I am more than able to handle any clueless templar who starts asking too many questions.”

With one last irritated glance at Alistair, Morrigan stalked away, with Leliana in tow. Once she was out of earshot, Alistair let out a weary sigh of his own.

“This is why I wanted you as leader,” he said. “I’m not able to handle...this sort of thing.”

Callum rubbed his forehead. “You haven’t been so helpful, yourself. You and Morrigan act like squabbling children sometimes, and Maker knows I’m far too young to be a father.”

The former templar grumbled shamefacedly.

“I need to go for a walk,” Callum announced. “Come find me when I’m...less agitated.”

“What should I do in the meantime?”

“Stay out of trouble. Don’t start any more fights. Unless they really deserve it,” he added.

“I can handle that,” Alistair said, trying for an apologetic grin. Callum was embarrassed by how much it worked. He turned from the other Warden to hide the pink tinge in his face.

“Come on, Barkspawn.”

 

 

There wasn’t much to Lothering, Callum reflected as he strolled through the village. Of course, he’d been told as much by Morrigan when they’d left the Wilds, but it was a different story to see it with his own eyes. The Circle of Magi held the majority of mages across the entirety of Ferelden – all of them crammed into a single tower and thus making for a bustling environment, to say the least. And the few memories Callum had of his home before the Circle were of a similarly-busy city; Marchers preferred urban living on the whole to Fereldans, he knew. The idea of a village so small and sparse seemed almost ridiculous to him. The total population of Lothering couldn’t have been more than a few dozen people ordinarily. But now the place was packed with refugees fleeing the Blight. It was clear, even to someone just passing through, that the locals had no idea how to handle the sudden influx of people.

Callum had wanted to explore the locality for himself, but in truth it was Barkspawn who led the way. The faithful mabari let his nose do the work, his snout leading him around the buildings and fields, not caring how much muck and mud he collected on his fur along the way. Callum followed the dog, scarcely paying attention to where they were going. It wasn’t until a loud voice called him out of his thoughts that he noticed Barkspawn had led him to a small house on the village outskirts. Outside the front door, only ten feet or so from where Callum was standing, were a pair of young people with rich, black hair. They were clearly siblings – possibly twins judging by their similar ages – and not much younger than Callum, by the looks of them. One of them, the young man, had a squarish jaw and was dressed like a soldier. The other, a young woman, had longer hair and a rounder face, but the shape of her nose and eyes matched her brothers almost exactly. She was dressed like an average civilian, with a slender red scarf wrapped tightly around her neck. Aside from their strong resemblance, however, there was little of note about them; Callum would have walked right by them had Barkspawn not trotted directly up to them, tongue hanging out of his mouth.

“Look, Beth,” the brother was saying, “we can’t just up and leave so soon.”

“Why not?” she demanded. “If what you say is true, then...oh!”

Barkspawn had planted himself on the ground between the arguing siblings and had begun sniffing around their feet. The woman cringed away slightly, but the young man chuckled and leaned down to rub Barkspawn’s head fondly.

“Hey, there, friend” he said in a light, humoured tone. “Where’d you come from, eh? You got a master around here somewhere?”

“That’d be me,” Callum piped up, somewhat embarrassed by his dog’s behaviour. The siblings looked up sharply towards him. “Sorry, he’s very friendly for a war dog.”

“A mabari war dog?” the man raised an eyebrow at him. “You some sort of noble, then?”

“No, no...” Callum waved his hands dismissively. It wasn’t a lie, exactly. After all, he’d forfeited whatever title he’d once had when he’d been brought to the Circle all those years ago. “He’s...well, it’s a long story.” Callum whistled as sharply as he could. “Come here, boy.”

Casting a round-eyed, reluctant look at the siblings, Barkspawn obediently walked back to his master. Callum smiled apologetically at the pair.

“Sorry, again. Don’t know what’s gotten into him. He’s never acted this way around strangers before...”

Callum hadn’t failed to notice the way the siblings’ moods had shifted once he’d made his presence known. The woman had taken a step back, almost shrinking behind her brother, who had respectively moved slightly forwards. They hadn’t needed to communicate with one another – merely acted in unison as though rehearsed dozens of times before.

“Not often we see a mabari around these parts,” the young man said. “Any chance you’re a soldier?”

Callum hesitated. “You...could say that, yes.”

“Another long story?” The brother folded his arms. “Seems like you’re full of them.”

“You could say that, too,” Callum admitted with a slight shrug.

“You must have come from the Circle of Magi.”

Callum blinked as the young woman spoke up for the first time since he’d arrived on the scene. There was no mistaking the curiosity in her eyes, even as she remained standing behind her brother.

“Is that right?” she asked.

“Well...yes, as it so happens.”

“Then you must have been at Ostagar, too!” she exclaimed. “Tell us – the darkspawn, are they coming? How long do we-?”

“Beth,” her brother warned. “The mages at Ostagar all went back to the Circle after the battle. If this man really was there, he could only be an apostate.”

Callum saw the young man’s hand dart towards his belt, where a sword was plainly sheathed.

“You were there?” Callum asked him.

“And what of it?” he retorted, baring his teeth like a cornered animal.

“Then you know the truth of what happened. How Teyrn Loghain betrayed the king and left him to die.”

He paused, his hand remaining where it was. Nonetheless, Callum noticed his expression change.

“How could you know that?”

“Because I was there. I was the one who lit the signal fire atop the Tower of Ishal.”

“You’re...serious, aren’t you.” It was phrased as a statement rather than a question. His hand dropped to his side again.

“Then you were at Ostagar,” the woman concluded.

Callum nodded. “Can I ask your names? I’m Callum,” he added.

“My name is Bethany,” she said, before nodding to her brother. “And this is-”

“Hawke,” he cut in abruptly.

Bethany shook her head in exasperation. “But you can call him ‘Carver’.”

“Beth!” Carver snapped, glaring at his sister, who merely sighed.

Callum frowned, a funny little nudging feeling in the back of his head cropping up at the name. “Hawke...?”

“The family name,” Bethany supplied. “Bethany and Carver Hawke.”

“Why don’t you give him our whole family tree, while you’re at it?” Carver grumbled darkly.

“He’s not going to harm us,” she protested, only for her brother to splutter.

“Not going to harm us?! He’s an apostate, for Andraste’s sake!”

“So am I!” she hissed, casting a fearful glance around her – one that Callum recognised all too well as the look of someone constantly on-guard for templars. “So is Garrett! We aren’t bad people just for being mages.”

“He’s still a stranger, Beth.” Carver never took his eyes off of Callum, even while talking fervently with his sister. “I thought you’d know better than to trust someone like him.”

Ordinarily, he would have interjected by now. But that niggling feeling in the back of Callum’s mind was keeping him distracted while the Hawke siblings discussed him so vehemently. There was something about the family name that bothered him – like an itch that wouldn’t go away. He’d heard the name “Hawke” before, he knew. But where...?

“Not to be blunt,” Carver went on, “but you’d better clear off. You could draw attention to this place – to our home. Surely you can understand why we might not want the templars paying us a visit?”

“I...” Callum swallowed. “I do. And I’m sorry. I’ll leave you be.”

“Carver...”

“It’s for your own safety, Beth,” he told her, still never looking away from the Warden.

Callum nodded, guilt overpowering his curiosity. He took a step back, making to leave, before he hesitated.

“Something wrong?” Carver asked.

“The darkspawn,” Callum said, glancing towards Bethany. “I passed the horde on my way here. They’re close – no more than two days from here. Everyone in this village needs to leave. As soon as possible.”

Bethany nodded. “Thank you, Callum.”

Carver’s hand was reaching for his sword again – the message behind the movement all too clear. Callum reached down to rub Barkspawn on the head and muttered “Come along, boy.”

 

 

Callum eventually made his way back to the centre of the village, still pondering the encounter he’d had with the Hawke twins. It was difficult to miss Alistair, who stood in the middle of the square in his full suit of armour like a rather broad, out-of-place pole. The fellow Warden spotted Callum from some distance away, and waved in greeting. Callum went over to join him, with Barkspawn trotting faithfully behind.

“Glad to see you’re still in one piece,” Alistair remarked.

“You’re one to talk,” Callum retorted. “Unlike you, I haven’t started a single fight today.”

“The day is young,” Alistair said with a grin. “And anyway, even if I did start another fight, I’d have more protection than you. I’ve got my armour, but all you have are those...robe thingies.”

Callum did a twirl on the spot, letting the hem of his robes drift up around his feet for emphasis. “No need to be jealous. The Maker didn’t bless us all with a sense of style, it seems.”

Alistair chortled. “Yes, and I’m sure style will save you from the darkspawn. Didn’t you know hurlocks have a weakness for Circle mage fashion?”

“Is that another Grey Warden secret I get to be privy to now?”

“One of many,” Alistair reassured him, suppressed a giggle. “And you’re right, of course – I am jealous. I doubt it gets nearly as blisteringly hot under those robes as it does in this.”

“Well, anytime you want to swap, just let me know,” Callum told him, trying furiously to ignore the delicious image of Alistair stripping out of his armour that danced in his mind’s eye. He decided it was better to try and change the subject. “Any sign of Morrigan or Leliana?”

Alistair shook his head. “I doubt Morrigan wants to be anywhere near me right now. Honestly, I’m surprised you do. I’m glad to see you’re not so angry anymore.”

Callum smiled pleasantly at him. “Oh, Alistair, trust me – I’m always angry.”

Alistair shivered. “And here I’d thought it was just one scary mage in our party.”

Callum cackled.

“Oh, fantastic. Now you sound like Flemeth. I’ll be hearing that in my nightmares, I’m sure. So, what did you get up to while I was gone?”

“I took a look around the village,” Callum said. “I tried to let people know that the darkspawn are coming. Most of them already know, of course, but they don’t seem particularly ready to leave.”

“I noticed that too,” Alistair said, grimacing. “I overheard a few Chasind Wilders proclaiming that the oncoming Blight was the sign of the world’s end, but nobody seemed to pay them much mind. I don’t think any doomsaying from us will do much to convince people, either.”

“I wish we could help them,” Callum said, thinking of the Hawke family. “If we stay, we can help fend off the darkspawn.”

“Two Grey Wardens against the entire horde?” Alistair shook his head sadly. “Every Warden in Ferelden was at Ostagar, and they were still overwhelmed. We need those treaties and the aid they’ll provide if we’re to have any hope of ending this Blight.”

Callum ground his teeth. He was right, of course. Alistair was as young and idealistic as Callum, but he was no fool – despite what Morrigan thought. Staying to try and stop the darkspawn from wiping out Lothering would only get them both killed. They’d been lucky enough to survive the onslaught at Ostagar: sacrificing themselves here and now would only be a waste.

“I know,” Callum said, doing his best to put aside the wave of sorrow and dread that had been dogging his thoughts since Ostagar. “We...we have to stop the Blight. Or else all of Ferelden will suffer.”

“Right,” Alistair agreed, the frown on his face and the look in his eyes letting Callum know that they both felt the same. “No matter the cost.” He shook his head, trying to loosen himself up. “Well, that’s enough moping for now, anyway. We ought to find you some food.”

Callum raised an eyebrow. “Food?”

“Aren’t you hungry?”

“Well...no, not particularly. Should I be?”

Alistair shrugged. “I was expecting you would be. It’s...well, it’s a Grey Warden thing. Happens to most of us after the Joining.”

“What, an increase in appetite?”

“Exactly. It was the first change that I noticed, after my own Joining. I used to get up in the middle of the night and raid the castle larder.” He cracked an embarrassed smile. “I thought I was starving. I’d slurp down every dinner like it was my last...”

“I haven’t noticed anything like that,” Callum remarked. “Although I’m glad to hear your table manners haven’t changed much since then.”

“Oh, do they teach those in the Circle, too? Anyway, that was one of the biggest changes I noticed after becoming a Warden – well, besides being able to sense darkspawn and having all those bizarre nightmares.”

“I see. Anything else?”

“What do you mean?” Alistair asked.

“Any other changes I should be aware of?”

“Well...maybe one or two, but...” Alistair suddenly appeared rather nervous. He cast a furtive glance around the square, but nobody had drawn particularly close to the pair of Wardens. “I suppose you’d better find out sooner rather than later. And better for me to tell you while the others aren’t around to overhear.”

Callum stomach lurched, anxiety tugging at his gut. “Wh-What is it? Is it bad?”

“Not bad exactly – or not in the way you’re probably expecting. It can just be a tad...distracting at times.” Alistair scratched the back of his head, a sheepish expression crawling across his face. “Look, we’re both men here, right? You know how it can be sometimes, don’t you?”

“Oh, Maker,” Callum groaned.

“Sorry,” Alistair muttered, “it’s just not easy for me to talk about this sort of thing. I didn’t think I’d ever have to...well, you know.”

“Just spit it out, then.”

Alistair sighed. “Yes, well, alright then. Most Wardens, after the Joining I mean, notice an increase in various...er, urges. Not just when it comes to eating, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh, so it’s a sex thing, is that right?”

Alistair practically flinched. “Y-Yes, it’s a...a sex thing. It doesn’t happen for everyone who undergoes the Joining, but many Wardens experience a change in their libido.”

“Does that include you?” Callum asked, quirking an eyebrow at him, turning the other Warden’s cheeks an even darker shade of red.

“That is...none of your concern!” he protested, spluttering. “Anyway, killing darkspawn serves as an excellent distraction most of the time, of course, but nobody can fight darkspawn forever. And the last thing anyone would want during a battle is to be caught off-guard when you were too busy thinking about...well, other things.”

“I understand,” Callum said. “So, should I even ask what the Wardens do to relieve themselves of this issue?”

Alistair cringed. “Well, I wouldn’t really know. My Joining was only a year ago: I wasn’t, er, privy to some of the details. Mostly I just...took matters into my own hands, so to speak.” He covered his face with his hands. “Ugh, Maker, why am I telling you this?”

The thought of Alistair, alone in his tent, “taking matters into his own hands”, was too much for Callum to bear to think about in such a public location, and yet too enticing for him to ignore.

“All by yourself?” he prodded. “You never asked for help?”

“Flames, no!” Alistair gaped. “That’s not something I could just...just ask someone!”

“Why not? It doesn’t always have to be a big deal, you know. I’m sure your fellow recruits were having similar difficulties, after all. I doubt they’d have minded having a helping hand...”

From what little of Alistair’s face he could still see behind his gauntlets, the man’s face was turning crimson. “Maker, maybe I shouldn’t have brought this up after all. Clearly, you and I have had very different experiences.”

“Well, I certainly wasn’t raised in a chantry,” Callum admitted. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, Alistair. And I appreciate you letting me know about this, even though it obviously wasn’t easy to talk about.”

The Warden peeked out from behind his fingers. “Do you...? I suppose it’s not all bad, then. But, by Andraste, you do know how to get me all flustered in a public place.”

Callum beamed. “You make it so incredibly easy. And, you know...” He lowered his voice pointedly. “If you ever do need a helping hand when you find yourself distracted...”

Alistair groaned, fixing his fellow Warden with a grumpy glare between his fingers. “Well, now I know you’re doing it on purpose.”

Callum laughed again, even though he had only been half-joking.

Alistair dropped his hands with a huff. “Since you’ve been so cheeky, I’m not even going to tell you about the giant man in the cage I found.”

Callum blinked. “Wait – a what in a cage?”

“Aha! Piqued your interest, have I?” Alistair grinned proudly. “Well, I daresay it’s about time we set off to find the others.”

“Hey, hold on-”

“Off we go!”

“Maker’s breath,” Callum grumbled, watching as Alistair strode away from him, making for another part of the village. With no other option left to him, Callum followed the other Warden into the throngs, his mabari companion never leaving his side.

Chapter Text

The sword plunged into Callum’s stomach and he howled in agony, the scream echoing into the surrounding darkness, drowning out the sounds of gnashing teeth and guttural growling that lurked within. The hurlock that held the blade was standing over him, towering like a storm, its grinning face a mangled mask, flesh rotting and peeling away like old paint. Its hideous smile widened as it twisted the sword, yanking the handle around, making the horrible, all-consuming pain in Callum’s abdomen reach new heights. He tried to scream again, but blood was filling his throat like bile, choking him. He could only watch as the hurlock leaned down, the jeering laughter of its fellow darkspawn like a foul chorus, and opened its mouth wide. Its tongue slid out of its maw like a slug, slithering over cracked lips, edging closer and closer to the Warden kneeling below. Held in place by the darkspawn’s weapon, and with his strength rapidly fading from his limbs, Callum could do nothing to resist as the hurlock’s putrid tongue began lathering his face, sweeping over his bare skin, licking and tasting Callum’s bare flesh. Callum felt tears trickling down from his eyes, strangled sobs making his shoulders shake, the sickening scent of plague and death from the hurlock’s breath filling his nostrils.

“No!”

Callum thrashed and flailed, his limbs swinging wildly, tangling in his sheets as though he were caught in the web of a giant spider. Callum yelped and sobbed further as the sensation of a massive, stinking tongue lathering his face refused to vanish along with his nightmare. Sensing a large creature hovering over him, Callum latched onto the dark shape before him, only to find himself with fistfuls of fur. Callum blinked as the shape resolved itself into a mabari, now frowning curiously at its master, having stopped its licking. Barkspawn let out a concerned whimper, and Callum slumped back into his bed roll.

“I’m sorry, boy,” he whispered, throwing his arms around the dog’s neck and stroking his matted fur gently. “I’m sorry. You were only trying to help.”

Barkspawn whined again.

“It’s alright now,” Callum promised. “I’m alright. It was just a bad dream.”

Only the most recent of many such dreams. Alistair hadn’t been joking about nightmares being a major part of a Grey Warden’s experience; it seemed like Callum hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep since the Joining – just over a fortnight ago. And they weren’t getting any easier to handle, either. In fact, whenever he felt as though he were getting used to them, they would rapidly became much more distressing and horrific. The party had been lucky to avoid the horde as they had travelled northwards and then west, making for the Brecilian Forest. But if the darkspawn caught up to them now, Callum was doubtful he would be able to put up a proper fight. Using magic and casting spells took concentration and focus – neither of which he could manage in his sleep-deprived state. Even now, as he felt himself waking up more and more, he could feel the vague whisperings of the darkspawn “group mind” in the back of his head, promising more horrific visions to come.

“In future,” Callum whispered into his companion’s ear, “just give me a nudge if you ever hear me crying out in my sleep. No licking my face again, alright?”

Barkspawn gave a grumble of assent, which was good enough for Callum. He sighed and clambered out of his bedroll, detaching himself from the mabari and pulling his robes back on. Fresh air, he supposed, might be what he needed. The night air was still outside the tent, with barely so much as a slight breeze rustling through the trees above. They had made camp in a small clearing on the fringes of the forest, and the campfire had been pleasantly warm. Now, however, it was little more than a scattering of dying embers. There was a large, heavily-armoured figure lying next to the campfire: the latest member of their group. The party had freed Sten from his cage in Lothering – where he undoubtedly would have stayed until the darkspawn ravaged the town. The Qunari had spoken little since joining them on their journey. Even now, Callum watched as a single eye blinked open, focused in on him, and then closed again, unperturbed. Callum didn’t know if he could fully trust the giant man, who had been utterly reticent when it came to details of his past. But the Blight was the more pressing issue, and Sten had made it clear that he was no threat to any member of their group as of yet.

Even this far from the centre of the forest, the canopy was thick above Callum’s head, making it difficult to see the night sky. Whenever he’d woken up early on previous nights, he’d taken to studying the constellations above – the Oak, the High Dragon, the Maiden, and so on. More than once, he’d managed to distract himself so much in this task that he’d fallen back asleep again. There would be no such luck tonight, however. It would be a long time until dawn came – or so he thought.

He’d only just sat down beside the ashes of the campfire when there was a rustling sound from behind him. Callum whirled, reaching for his staff, only to curse himself as he realised he’d left it in the tent. But a figure stepped out of the tent next to Callum’s, tall and broad-shouldered, recognisable as Alistair even in the darkness.

“Callum?” The other Warden kept his voice low. “I heard you leaving your tent, so I came out to see what was going on.”

“I’m alright,” Callum lied, in an effort to reassure him. “Don’t worry. You can go back to sleep?”

“But you can’t, isn’t that right?” Alistair drew closer, the expression of concern and empathy on his face becoming visible. “More nightmares?”

Callum slumped.

“Trust me, I know what it’s like. Don’t think I slept a wink for a month after my Joining.” He crouched down beside Callum, the two of them facing the embers. “But I was better off then than you are now – I had friends in the Wardens to help me through it. They’d all been through the same as me, and some of them had never stopped having the nightmares. But they were always there for each other when things got bad. That’s why I loved the Grey Wardens: we were like one great, big family.”

Callum cast a glance at Alistair, expecting perhaps a tear or two. Instead, the look on his face was one of determination, not sorrow. It also became clear to him very suddenly just how little clothing Alistair was wearing; his chest, arms and most of his legs were utterly bare, and Callum had strongly resist the urge to eye his remarkably small underclothes.

“So what kind of Warden would I be if I didn’t help you in the same way?” He stood up, legs straightening. “You can sleep in my tent tonight, if you want to.”

Callum could have sworn, right then, that he was in the Fade; this was all just another dream, and a beautiful desire demon had taken the form of a half-naked Alistair in an effort to tempt him. But he felt the nudge of Barkspawn’s snout against his side, and knew that – for the moment, at least – this was no dream. If it had been anywhere else, at any other time, Callum wouldn’t have been able to help making another flirty quip, or suggest that his fellow Warden was trying to seduce him. With his brain numb and deprived of rest it so sorely needed, however, all Callum could do was nod dully.

“Please,” he mumbled.

“I’m afraid Barkspawn will have to stay outside,” Alistair went on, nodding to the mabari. “Things are messy enough in my tent without him shedding all over the place.”

“He won’t mind,” Callum told him, before turning to Barkspawn and murmuring, “Isn’t that right, boy?”

He barked, the sound shockingly loud in the forest clearing.

“Whisper,” Callum hissed at him, earning a much quieter bark in reply. He gave Barkspawn a fond rub on the head as he stood. “Good boy.”

Alistair practically cooed at them both. “Aww, bless him. I wish I had a mabari. Or ten. Or twenty. Just a tiny little army of minions to do my bidding and nuzzle me for attention.”

“That sounds like a lot of responsibility,” Callum commented, as he and Alistair made for the tent.

“Ugh, you’re right,” Alistair grumbled, opening the tent flap and indicating for Callum to enter first. “I ought to think it through a bit more.”

The first thing Callum noticed about the interior of Alistair’s tent was that it smelled like him – a warm, strong, musky scent that probably would have been unpleasant had he not come to associate it with its owner. It was dark inside, and hotter than it had been in Callum’s own tent. His robes were thin, but he knew it wouldn’t be long before he’d begin to sweat. Callum heard the tent flap close behind him and was just about able to make out the shape of Alistair staggering over to his bedroll.

“The best cure for the nightmares,” Callum heard him say, “is cuddling – according to the Wardens anyway. Two warm bodies spooned up under a bedroll makes for a cosy night’s sleep.” He lay back down on the tent floor, fumbling with the blanket. “It’s almost tradition, apparently, from the recruits all the way up to the Senior Wardens. I was sceptical at first, I’ll admit, but it nearly always worked like a charm. And if it ever did happen that the nightmares still came back, at least you had someone there with you to calm you down.”

Making a firm effort to try and slow his racing heartbeat, Callum gradually lay himself down next to Alistair, still donned in his robes. It quickly became clear, once the blanket had been thrown over him, that he was going to boil if he kept his clothes on – Alistair’s body beside him was like a campfire in its own right. So, with a muttered apology, Callum slipped out of his robes again, folding them up and placing them aside, before lying back down under the blanket. He felt a pair of big, muscled arms wrap around his chest and tug him closer, and suddenly he was being suffocated in Alistair’s embrace. It was as though a fire had been lit in the depths of Callum’s gut, and it rapidly spread outwards, radiating heat, until his skin matched the temperature of Alistair’s. He and Alistair had been close together before, but never with so few clothes on, and it was an altogether different experience. Callum hadn’t been this intimate with anyone, let alone someone he was attracted to, since before his Harrowing – what felt now like the longest month of his entire life. Callum screwed his eyes shut as he felt his smallclothes inevitably begin to contract.

“Feeling better?” Alistair’s breath was warm against the back of his neck, the deep rumbling of his voice resonating in Callum’s body like a hymn.

“M-Much,” Callum managed to squeak out. “Do you..have to squeeze me so tight, though?”

Alistair chuckled, loosening his hold. “Sorry. I must have missed being able to hold somebody like this.” His tone, though light, was tinged with melancholy. Callum reached up one hand to pat the other Warden gently on the arm.

“Me, too,” he said.

“The life of a Grey Warden is never easy,” Alistair murmured. “But it should never be lonely, either. I don’t want you to suffer in silence like you have been. We’re all that’s left, you and I – we need to be there for one another.”

“I understand. And thank you. I know I haven’t always been the easiest person in Thedas to work with...”

“You’re far from the most difficult person in this party.”

“Maybe not, but the point still stands.”

“You have every reason to dislike me,” Alistair told him. “I’m kind of impressed that you don’t. Or maybe you do, and I’m just terrible at reading people.”

“I don’t dislike you, Alistair.” Quite the contrary, in fact.

“Well, that’s something, at least.”

“You’ve certainly poked a rather large hole in my ‘all templars are bastards’ theory.”

Alistair laughed, body delectably quivering against Callum’s. “Careful. It’s early days, yet. Wouldn’t want you to eat those words.”

Callum shifted slightly in the bed, doing his best to ignore the ache in his groin that refused to go away. It was fortunate that he had his back to Alistair – the other man couldn’t possibly have failed to notice the significant change in Callum’s anatomy otherwise. The minutes ticked slowly by, and Callum’s need only grew more and more pressing. There’d be no falling asleep like this, he reflected.

“Alistair...?”

“Hmm?”

“Can you...excuse me, for a few moments?”

Alistair nodded, relinquishing Callum from his embrace and thankfully not bothering to ask any questions. Callum didn’t take his robe with him as he left the tent, despite the slight chill in the air.

He found a good, broad, solid tree not far from the camp, but distant enough that he was out of both sight and earshot of anyone awake. Propping his back against the tree trunk, Callum slid his smallclothes down his legs, freeing his erection at long last. The night was cold, but his hands were warm, and thoughts of Alistair’s semi-naked body pressing firmly against him were still fresh in his mind. Callum gripped the tree with his free hand to steady himself as the other worked himself over, stroking furiously. Pleasure built up rapidly, cresting faster than he would have believed. A strangled shout left his throat as he came, despite his best efforts to contain the sound. His orgasm left him panting raggedly, as though he’d just run a mile. The entire process hadn’t taken more than a minute.

Drying himself off with a handful of leaves and donning his underclothes once again, Callum swiftly made his way back to the camp – once he was certain his legs wouldn’t give out from beneath him. He ducked back inside Alistair’s tent, only to find the other Warden snoring soundly, sprawled out under the blanket. Sighing, but unable to help but smile, Callum lay back down next to his fellow Warden. With all the strength draining from his limbs, and Alistair’s warmth soothing him, sleep took Callum with ease.

 

 

The nightmares didn’t return, much to Callum’s relief. He’d slept so well that he was genuinely groggy when he woke up. The bedroll was so blissfully cosy and warm that he felt like a swaddling babe, and the urge to shut his eyes and fall back asleep again was overwhelming, even though he could see the morning sunlight sparkling on the tent canvas. Callum yawned deeply, jaw aching, and nuzzled himself back against the warm body lying beside him. His eyes flew open when he felt something fleshy and firm digging into the small of his back. Alistair grunted, a soft noise of contentment that slipped out like a breath from between his lips.

All at once, it was as though Callum had never taken care of things the night before. He clenched his teeth as his cock strained furiously against his smallclothes once again, desire flaring inside him like a bolt from the blue. Alistair’s arms were wrapped loosely around Callum’s torso, his hands limp against his chest. Callum had to wriggle free, painfully aware of the head of his cock rubbing against the soft fabric, begging for release. Mercifully, Alistair’s arms moved to let the mage loose, Callum clambering out of the bedroll just as a bleary voice muttered from behind him.

“Cal...?” Alistair’s eyes flickered sleepily open, unfocused. “Everything alright...?”

“Everything’s...just fine, Alistair.” Callum made sure his back was turned to the other Warden as he pulled his robes on. “It’s morning. We need to get moving.”

Alistair groaned, drawing a chuckle from Callum despite everything.

“Careful,” he warned. “You wouldn’t want Morrigan to make good on her promise to wake you up with an ice spell if you ever slept in again.”

“Point taken.” Alistair sat up and yawned loudly. “Sleep well?”

“Very,” Callum replied. “Thank you. For everything.” He made to dart out of the tent, only for Alistair to make a noise of concern.

“Hold on, are you sure you’re alright?”

“Positive, Alistair. I just need...I need to take care of some things before we strip the camp.”

Alistair shrugged, sinking back into his blanket. “Suit yourself...”

Callum practically sprinted out of the tent, making for the same spot he’d gone to last night. He prayed that none of the others had seen him as he slipped out of his robes once more, heart pounding as he grasped himself through his underclothes. Was this what Alistair had been talking about in Lothering – an increase in libido thanks to the Joining? Or perhaps it was more than that. He couldn’t deny that just thinking about his fellow Warden made his heartbeat quicken, what with his brilliant smile, his sandy blond hair, his bronzed skin, his broad frame, his gentle voice, and his terrible jokes...

Callum shook himself. It was a harmless crush – that was all. Understandable, really, given how the two of them had become so close so quickly after Ostagar. What was more, Callum was clearly touch-starved: not once in his life had he ever shared a bed with someone the way he had just done with Alistair. More than a few times, the templars had marched through the apprentices’ quarters after curfew and forcibly separated anyone lying together. Any hint of intimacy or fraternisation between mages of any age was strongly discouraged. Callum had had to spend his youth hiding away his affections and desires for fear of punishment, and now all at once they were threatening to spill out from him in a rush. It was entirely natural that his emotions would be surging like this after having been so blissfully close to the object of his affections. It was normal. It had to be.

In any case, Callum knew that he wouldn’t be able to spend another night in Alistair’s tent, no matter how severe his nightmares were. Bad dreams were tolerable next to the crushing despair he’d feel at embarrassing himself in front of Alistair. They were the only two Grey Wardens left in Ferelden, after all – neither of them could risk complicating matters between them.

Callum sighed both with relief and with exasperation as he removed his smalls and took hold of himself just as he had done the night before. He shut his eyes tightly and began to stroke. This couldn’t continue, he knew. Eventually, he’d have to find a solution that didn’t amount to rushing out of camp and pleasuring himself in the woods. But, for now, he saw little choice otherwise.

Chapter Text

It had taken him some time to try and sift through the knowledge that had been implanted in his mind. It was very different from reading a book, Callum reflected: it was more as if he had already read and memorised every word in the book without taking in their meaning, and only now was he attempting to make sense of the information he had seen. It was a bizarre and yet remarkably fascinating situation. He had no regrets about making that deal with the being trapped in the phylactery, and he hoped that – whoever or whatever they had been – they were now at peace.

Although they had left the Dalish encampment behind them the previous afternoon, the events that had happened both there and deeper within the forest had been the focus of Callum’s thoughts until this morning. Now, with a moment to relax and catch his breath before the party moved on yet again, Callum had taken the time to meditate on what he had uncovered in the forest ruins.

Dirth'ena Enasalin

The words were foreign, both in his mind and on his tongue when he’d tried to speak them aloud. Nevertheless, the meaning behind them was clear, thanks to the memories newly bestowed upon him: ‘knowledge that leads to victory’.

There was still much he would have to learn – the information he had received from the being in the phylactery was still somewhat vague and seemed to cover only the basics of the art. But for now...

The other party members were setting about dismantling the camp, putting away the tents and packing up their supplies. The newcomers to the group – Bodahn Feddic and his son, Sandal – helped everywhere that they could. But it was Alistair who Callum was searching for. He spotted the Warden putting away his tent, and strode over to him.

“Hello, Alistair.”

“Hello, Callum. Finished packing up already?”

“I got up early.”

The night the two of them had spent in Alistair’s tent together had been both the first and the last. Callum had invented an excuse when talking to Alistair afterwards – that he’d return to Alistair’s tent if he ever felt the need, but that there was no need to worry overtly about his sleep, or lack thereof. Alistair had understood, although he seemed perhaps a bit puzzled by Callum’s apparent change. Whatever the case had been, the events that had happened in the Brecilian Forest had put everything at the back of their minds – for the moment, at least.

“I need to ask a favour.”

“Alright. What is it?”

“Could I...borrow a sword?”

Alistair blinked. “You mean my sword?”

“Any one would do. Surely you picked up a spare?”

“Well, I did, as a matter of fact...” He rooted around in his supplies for a moment before producing a steel broadsword. “I think this belonged to one of the walking corpses that tried to kill us in the ruins. But it looked to be in decent nick, so I held onto it.”

Alistair passed the sword to Callum, who held it in his hand and felt it for balance. The blade was roughly three feet long, and the handle had clearly been forged for a warrior – not for the slender hand of a mage who’d spent most of his life locked away in a tower. Of course, he’d noticed a few physical changes to his body recently – likely more side-effects of the Joining, coupled with the exponential increase in exercise he’d been getting since he’d left the Circle. He was packing on some muscle, and his skinny, flat torso had become more toned and rugged. It had been a gradual change, but difficult to avoid noticing.

“You...aren’t planning on using it in battle, are you?”

“Of course I am. We need every advantage we can take when it comes to fighting the darkspawn.”

“Have you ever even held a sword before now?” Alistair asked in bewilderment.

“Never,” Callum replied, stepping away from the other Warden and trying a few practise swings while channelling his magic into augmenting his physical strength, as he had learned. All at once, in a rush of pseudomemories that spoke to him of countless battles he had never fought, he felt as though he’d been wielding a sword his entire life. He actually giggled aloud as the exhilaration hit him. He tossed the sword into the air over his head, watched as it revolved pommel over blade, and then reached up to catch it as it fell. It was less like a weapon now and more like an extension of his arm, no more difficult to make use of than his own hand.

“You...” Alistair shook his head. “How did you do that? Are you...?” He sighed. “Is this because of the phylactery we found in the ruins?”

Callum nodded. “I picked up a few new tricks from what it had to show me.”

“Hmmm...” Eyes darting between Callum and his new weapon for several moments, Alistair eventually shrugged. “Well, I hope you know what you’re doing, at least.”

“I do,” Callum reassured him. “Well, I don’t. But I do. It’s difficult to describe.”

“I suppose as long as you only hit the enemy with that thing and not us, it shouldn’t be a problem. I should probably warn you, though – those kinds of swords typically require a shield to be used in your other hand, just like I do.”

“What about another type of sword, then? Like the one Sten wields.”

“A greatsword?” Alistair blinked in surprise. “Those aren’t exactly intended for people much smaller than a qunari. Even I have trouble using them.”

“Do you have one?”

Alistair sighed, obediently rummaging around again before pulling out a truly massive sword. This one was two full feet longer than the other one, with a lengthy handle to boot. Obviously it was meant to be held in both hands, with no room for a shield. Callum reached out to take it, drawing more strength from the Fade. Taking hold of the greatsword with his two hands, Callum stepped further away from Alistair. He made an attempt at a swing – realising too late that, although the sword felt light in his magically-strengthened grip, it was still rather heavy in comparison to Callum’s body. As a result, the mage toppled over and crashed to the ground, blade dropping from his grasp. Muck clinging to his robes and Alistair’s stifled chortles ringing in his ears, Callum scrambled to his feet.

“I think you’d better stick with something more manageable for now,” the other Warden advised, still struggling not to burst out laughing. But Callum refused, shaking his head adamantly.

“It can be done,” he vowed, picking the greatsword back up off the ground. It had become a challenge, now: like a spell that he was determined to learn how to cast, or a smug templar who thought he was a gift from the Maker Himself. His mistake, Callum knew, had been in how he’d focused his magic. It would take more than brute strength to wield the greatsword. Instead of channelling mana entirely to his arms, Callum spread the magic throughout his body – focusing on his legs and hips as much as his arms and shoulders. His whole body was now thrumming with the Fade’s power, feeling light enough to almost be giddy. Taking a deep breath, and spreading his feet wide, Callum swung, marvelling at the feel of the weapon in his grasp, at the way the air went woosh as the blade cut through it. He laughed again, a hearty cackle that would likely make Alistair nervous. At that moment, however, not even Knight-Commander Greagoir could have dampened Callum’s mood.

“Oh, I’m keeping this!” Callum said with a grin. “The Blight won’t know what hit it.”

He turned back to Alistair, whose expression was an amusing mixture of awe, concern, and bewilderment.

“Maker’s breath,” he croaked. “I think I’ve just witnessed the birth of the Chantry’s worst nightmare – a Knight-Enchanter outside their control.”

“Not a Knight-Enchanter,” Callum cut in. “Dirth'ena Enasalin. An Arcane Warrior. This knowledge belongs to the elves. I owe them this power – not the Chantry, nor the Circle.”

“Can you still cast spells without your staff?”

Callum concentrated for a moment, holding up his free hand and calling for the Fade. It took a bit more effort than usual, but a wisp nonetheless appeared in answer to his call. The tiny spirit orbited his hand almost playfully, dancing around his fingers before travelling up the length of his arm. With a wave of his hand, Callum dismissed the spirit, and it vanished as it returned to its home.

“It’s more difficult,” he admitted. “But it’s doable. I can’t fire arcane bolts from the tip of a sword, of course. But if I’m in the thick of battle, I won’t have to.”

“It’ll be difficult to get used to you fighting on the front line with me and Sten instead of at the rear,” Alistair commented. “And you’ll still have to be extra careful; all that new magical training won’t save you from a blade in your gut, I’m sure.”

“That’s why I’ll be wearing armour from now on, as well,” Callum announced, causing Alistair’s mouth to drop open.

“You...will?” A tiny smirk crept across Alistair’s mouth, before breaking into a full-on grin. “Sorry, I just pictured you in a full suit of armour, there. It’s a rather hilarious image, to be frank.”

“I’m sure we’ll find something that fits...”

 

 

Several leagues of walking later, Callum was starting to regret certain decisions. He’d worn robes almost every day since he’d arrived in the Circle, and he’d grown rather used to their supple and gentle feel against his skin. Armour, on the other hand, chafed. It clinked and it clanked and it weighed down on him like a boulder, restricting his movement even with his newfound strength. The helmet he was wearing had a visor that blotted out most of his field of vision. The party had walked all the way from the forest outskirts to the King’s Highway, and Callum had hoped he would grow more comfortable in that time. But it seemed, he thought as he stomped heavily down the path, that some things would still take some getting used to.

“Getting by alright?” he heard Alistair cheerily call to him.

“I feel like I‘m trapped in one of those iron maidens from Nevarra,” Callum grumbled, his voice rattling around the inside of the helmet.

“That’s the spirit!” Alistair enthused, earning a giggle from Leliana.

“’Tis a curious spectacle, I must admit,” Morrigan remarked. “Perhaps you believe all that hideous noise will drive off the darkspawn without you having to raise a finger?”

“It certainly hasn’t worked on you,” Alistair muttered.

“Grey Warden,” a deep voice growled, and Callum was shocked to recognise it as that of Sten – the man who had hardly spoken a word since joining their group back in Lothering. “You are not bas-karasaad. You are bas-saarebas.”

“Which means...?” Alistair prompted.

“It means he cannot be that which is he is not meant to be. A saarebas will never be anything but a saarebas. Pretending otherwise is a fool’s errand.”

Saarebas. It was a Qunlat word, Callum knew; Sten had told him as much during their first, brief, conversation. It meant “dangerous thing”, and it was the term the Qunari used to describe their mages. That had told him everything he’d needed to hear – that the Qunari likely treated their mages just as poorly as the Chantry. Sten was just another mouthpiece for mage oppression.

“Well, I look forward to proving you wrong,” Callum said.

The discussion likely would have continued – almost certainly going around in circles, in fact – had a woman not staggered onto the road in front of them. She was clearly a commoner – dressed in plainclothes without so much as a gauntlet to protect herself. She was out of breath, her blond hair a ragged mess, and her eyes widened in surprise and relief when she caught sight of the heavily-armoured group marching along the highway.

“Oh, thank the Maker!” she cried, running over to them. “We need help! They attacked the wagon; please help us!”

Callum caught Alistair’s eye through his helmet, and they nodded.

“Let’s go.”

“Follow me!” the woman eagerly said, turning and dashing back where she’d come from. “I’ll take you to them!”

They trailed behind the young woman as she led them away from the road, down a narrow path between some boulders. The path snaked between hills and small cliffs, winding narrowly through the countryside.

“Why did they leave the highroad?” Alistair wondered in a low voice. “Were they trying to escape their attackers?”

“’Tis a rather small path for a wagon,” Morrigan observed, making the growing knot in Callum stomach tighten.

Shortly after, they reached a clearing. Across the way, Callum spotted the wagon – next to a short man with dark skin and unusual-looking armour. A pair of swords were strapped to his back, their handles visible above his shoulders. Callum watched in disgust as the woman who had led them there strode purposefully up to the man, giving him a firm nod, before turning back to face the group with her terrified expression transformed into one of smug victory. Too late, Callum realised the danger as the short man gestured with one hand – a signal. Footsteps resounded through the clearing as close to a dozen people stepped out of hiding behind rocks or trees, all of them both armed and armoured. Even the blond woman lifted up a foot and slid a wicked-looking dagger from her shoe, and the way her dress slid up her legs showed Callum enough of what lay underneath to tell him she was similarly clad in protective clothing beneath her ‘ordinary’ clothes.

Callum glanced behind him just in time to see a tree that had stood tall above the entrance to the clearing begin to topple. He shouted a warning, and fortunately it seemed the full party had heard him. They hit the ground, narrowly avoiding the falling tree, which collided with the earth with an almighty thud, blocking their exit. There was the sound of numerous blades being drawn and bows being pulled taut, just as a voice called out.

“The Grey Warden dies here!”

And then the battle was upon them. Callum immediately began firing out orders, as per usual. He preferred to let them do what they thought was best, prizing their initiative and independent ideas. But they, on the other hand, seemed to work best once they had orders to fulfil.

“Morrigan, take out the archers! Leliana, you watch her back! Sten and Barkspawn, break through their front lines! Alistair, you’re with me!”

It was close to their standard procedure, aside from the order he’d given to Alistair. If Callum had known they would be ambushed along the highroad, he would have brought his staff and kept his robes. As it was, he was fighting in armour and with his greatsword for the first time; Alistair was there to protect him in the event that he got in over his head. Fortunately, Sten and Barkspawn managed to occupy the focus of the majority of their foes – the two of them working in tandem to take down as many of the bandits as they could. Callum observed Sten sweeping through the enemy with his own greatsword, taking note of the Qunari’s form in battle. So caught up was he in watching the Qunari that he failed to notice the pair of rogues who darted around Barkspawn’s jaws and sprinted towards him.

“Cal!”

Alistair’s shout brought his attention back to the present, just in time to see the short man who had headed the ambush appear directly before him. He was in mid-pounce, eyes glinting dangerously, swords outstretched and ready to plunge into Callum’s breastplate. Fortunately, Alistair stepped smoothly between them, slamming his shield into the assassin, knocking him to the ground. The other rogue danced around Alistair with ease, sliding under his sword and lunging at Callum with a vicious smile, one hand clutching her dagger. Callum’s body seemed to move on its own, spurred on by the muscle memory of movements he had never practised. His foot flew upwards, faster than he could have believed, colliding swiftly with the woman’s gut. Her expression changed instantly as the wind was knocked out of her, the full impact of his kick hitting her even through her protective gear. She fell to her knees, attempted to scramble to her feet, and Callum swung his greatsword horizontally, smoothly taking her head straight off her shoulders.

Time seemed to slow as he watched the woman’s head soar into the air, bone and gristle clinging to its underside, while the body crumpled to the ground. It registered with him, somewhere in the back of his mind, that this was the first human being he had ever killed. He had taken the lives of numerous darkspawn, plenty of beasts, several werewolves, and a handful of possessed trees, but never another person. He’d thought it would have been much, much different. It hadn’t been.

The severed head hit the ground nearby, just as a pained cry from behind Callum made him look over his shoulder. He saw Leliana standing close, an arrow sticking out of the side of her chest – perhaps a handful of inches from her heart. Her bow was upright, aimed at another archer far above. The enemy archer was quickly preparing another shot, faster than Leliana could. Callum directed the palm of his hand towards the redheaded woman and cast a hurried spell. The telekinetic barrier appeared around Leliana, just as the archer loosed his arrow, which ricocheted harmlessly off. The moment Callum dropped the barrier, Leliana fired, her own arrow hitting its target – directly under the enemy archer’s chin. He sank to his knees, gurgling incoherently. Leliana raised her hand towards Callum in acknowledgement and gratitude, before nocking another arrow.

Turning back towards Alistair, Callum watched as he shoved the assassin away with his shield once more. The assassin – and Callum noticed now, for the first time, that he was elven – moved with a litheness that put him in mind more of a dancer than a killer. He ducked under Alistair’s sword and immediately countered with his own blades, striking the Warden on his upper arm. Alistair staggered back as the elf pushed forwards, only to dodge quickly backwards as Callum charged towards him, greatsword pointed forward.

“Alistair, protect Leliana and Morrigan! I can handle this one!”

“I wouldn’t be so sure!” the elven assassin interjected with disarming cheeriness, teeth bared in what was both a grin and a grimace as he lunged towards Callum. His greatsword took the brunt of the blows, but the assassin swiftly flipped his blades upside down and attempted to stab him. Lowering his sword, Callum charged his free hand with lightning, quickly sending the spell towards the assassin, whose eyes widened in shock. The element of surprise proved to be his undoing, as the lightning spell hit the assassin squarely in the chest. The elf juddered and quaked, body hurtling backwards as the muscles in his legs spasmed violently. He hit the ground hard, but began picking himself up before Callum could press the advantage.

“Alistair, go!”

Finally heeding his command, Alistair ran back to join Leliana and Morrigan. Callum focused his attention on the assassin – undoubtedly the leader of this pack of bandits. He was still grinning, unbelievably, as he stood back up again. He wasn’t afraid, nor was he angry. His brown eyes were wide with rapture and exhilaration.

“I had been told that one of the Grey Wardens was a mage,” he said, in an accent Callum didn’t recognise. “But it seems I have underestimated you.”

“I’m full of surprises,” Callum shot back, earning a bark of laughter from the assassin.

“Evidently so!” The assassin’s tongue slid out of his mouth, trailing over his lips, and Callum felt a shiver run down his spine as jarringly erotic thoughts popped into his head at the sight. He shook himself just as the assassin broke into a sprint, swords twirling in his hands, glinting like beacons in the sunlight. Callum blocked the first strike, then the second, but the third came too quickly for him to parry. He felt a sting of pain as one of the assassin’s swords sank through the armour just above his hip, but pulled himself away before any severe damage could be done. Now it was Callum’s turn to swing his sword, but the assassin merely slid out of the way, feet skittering across the ground as he made to strike once more. Callum parried again, just barely, and he began thinking quickly. It was obvious that he was no match for the assassin in terms of speed and sheer agility, especially since Callum had never fought with a greatsword before. Eventually, Callum would slip up, and then...

Of course!

Calling to the Fade once again, Callum pointed at the ground beneath the assassin. The elf’s grin faltered for the first time as his feet lost purchase on the ground, which had rapidly become slick with grease. He made to swing a sword at Callum, but lost his balance and slipped, falling to the ground. Callum raised his greatsword high above his head, readying the final blow. He stared down at the assassin, who groaned as he squirmed on the slippery ground, casting a glance up at the Warden. Callum caught a glimpse of the expression in his eyes – it wasn’t fear. It looked like...

Relief?

Callum swung his sword down, aiming for the elf’s head, but twisted his grip at the last second so that the flat of the blade was what struck him. The assassin’s skull took the blow, and the force of the impact knocked his head against the ground, too. His eyes rolled back in his head as he slumped, unmoving.

All around the clearing, the sounds of battle were dying down. Sten and Barkspawn were mopping up the few bandits that remained, while Morrigan and Leliana were taking healing potions. Once the last bandit had fallen, the group convened in the clearing’s centre, around Callum.

“Is that all of them?” Alistair asked.

“This one is still breathing,” Sten noted, nudging the unconscious man with his foot. Barkspawn snarled, but drew back at a sharp whistle from Callum.

“He was their leader,” Callum said. “I had planned to leave him alive in order to question him.”

Leliana nodded. “Good idea. He may be able to tell us who sent them to kill you.”

“Be careful,” Alistair advised. “We don’t know what kind of tricks he might pull once he wakes up.”

“Then why don’t we tie him up?” Morrigan suggested. “We have a perfectly good length of rope somewhere...”

A few minutes later, the assassin had been bound, with rope tying both his arms and feet together. Once he was certain that everyone was prepared, Callum sent a small spark of magic into the elven man’s brain, jerking him awake immediately.

“Ohhh...oh I...hmm? Oh.” The assassin’s eyes flickered dully open. “I had rather hoped I would wake up dead. Or not wake up at all, as the case may be...”

Alistair jammed a boot into the downed man’s chest. “Tell us who sent you, now!”

The assassin spluttered and coughed. “Ah, ow, yes! Yes, alright! I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you.”

Alistair blinked. “You...will?”

“Don’t sound so disappointed,” Callum muttered, earning a sheepish grimace from the other Warden.

“Sorry. I just thought...well I was expecting him to put up more of a fight.”

“The fight has already been ‘put up’,” the man wheezed. “I lost, you won. Now, we talk. Or at least, we will once this foot has been removed from my chest.”

Alistair reluctantly lifted his boot, allowing the elf to breathe easily once again.

“Very well,” he said, taking in a deep breath. “The man who hired me to eliminate you and your friend here was a rather taciturn fellow in the capital by the name of Loghain.”

Alistair clenched his fists. “Of course it was him. Why am I not surprised he would stoop so low as to hire assassins?”

“Who are you, then?” Callum asked the man.

“My name is Zevran – ‘Zev’, to my friends. I am a member of the Antivan Crows, brought here for the sole purpose of slaying any surviving Grey Wardens.” He cast a glance at Callum. “Which I have failed at, sadly.”

“The Antivan Crows?” Alistair repeated.

“I have heard of them,” Leliana said. “They are an order of assassins based in Antiva, to the north. They are infamous for their ruthlessness and brutal efficiency, even in this part of Thedas.”

“Evidently not all of their members are so efficient,” Morrigan remarked, prompting Zevran to chuckle.

“Yes, well, as you can probably tell, that puts me in quite a...predicament. The House of Crows did not earn their reputation so easily. They value their contracts and agreements above all else – failure to eliminate one’s mark is equivalent to treason. To the Crows, my life is now forfeit.”

“And you don’t have any loyalty to Loghain?” Callum asked.

“Not at all,” Zevran said. “I was contracted to perform a service for him. Now that I have, ah, failed to complete the deed he hired me for, I have no further obligation to aid him.”

“You expect us to believe that means you pose no further danger to us?” Alistair prodded him. “You just admitted to being from a dangerous guild of assassins!”

“Well, yes, that is true. However, as I have mentioned before, the Crows will see no reason to hold onto me once they discover I have failed here today. They will hunt me down and kill me. That is a certainty. You, however, have spared my life.”

“For the moment,” Morrigan pointed out. Callum took that moment to remove his helmet, under which he was beginning to sweat. He cast a glance at Zevran, only to find the assassin staring straight back at him.

“Oh...I daresay you are far more handsome than I had been informed.” He grinned, his face lighting up with mischief.

Ignoring the way his heartbeat was suddenly drumming loudly in his ear, Callum raised his greatsword until it was levelled at the elven man’s throat. The assassin’s smile only widened, and he swallowed deeply as his eyes travelled up and down the length of the sword now pointed directly at him.

“In truth, I had always hoped to meet my end this way,” he said. “Tied up, on my knees, with a gorgeous man shoving his massive weapon in my face.”

Callum cracked a smile, before silently cursing himself for doing so as he watched the elf’s eyebrows rise knowingly.

“Are you...flirting?” Alistair gaped at the assassin. “You do realise we have you at our mercy? One false move and we’ll gut you.”

The assassin’s eyes flickered in his direction, before moving back to Callum again. “It seems your friend does not share your sense of humour, Warden. Now, allow me to make you an offer. I am no longer of any use to the Crows. However, I can instead be of use to you.”

Callum’s sword dipped slightly downwards. “And how would you be of use?”

“Well, as you are no doubt aware, I happen to be an accomplished assassin and an experienced fighter – something that would certainly be of use to a small group of warriors battling the Blight, yes? Then, there’s the possibility of the Crows making another attempt on your life. I know all about their wily ways and their malicious methods. You’ll be much safer from their talons with me in tow.”

“And what’s to stop you trying to finish the job at a later stage?” Callum asked.

“To be completely honest,” Zevran said with a sigh, “I was never given much of a choice regarding the Crows. They bought me on the slave market when I was a child.”

A strangely familiar image popped into Callum’s head – a tiny elven boy being dragged by a pair of manacles through the streets of a foreign city. In some respects, he’d been the total opposite of the human child who’d been clapped in chains and taken away from his noble family. In some respects, they hadn’t been very different at all.

“I think I’ve paid my worth back to the Crows, plus tenfold,” Zevran continued. “The only way out, however, is to sign up with someone they can’t touch. Even if I did kill you now, they might kill me just on principle for failing the first time.” The assassin’s shoulders lifted in a shrug, as his arms were bound tightly together. “Honestly, I’d rather take my chances with you.”

It could have all been lies, of course: a backup plan to lure the Wardens in with a sob story and a desperate plea, then backstab them while their guards were down. But Callum had seen that look on the man’s face when he’d thought his life was about to end. Nobody could have faked that, master assassin or no.

“Then I accept,” Callum said, sheathing his sword at last, not failing to miss how Zevran’s eyes widened for a fraction of a second before he tried to mask his surprise. Behind him, there was a spluttering from Alistair.

“What? We’re taking the assassin with us, now?!”

“A fine plan,” Morrigan said. “But I would examine your food and drink much more closely from now on, were I you.”

Zevran chuckled. “Oh, I like this one. And believe me, that’s excellent advice for anyone.”

Callum turned to his fellow Warden. “Alistair, could you untie him?”

“What?! Why me?”

“You’re the one who seems to trust him the least,” Callum pointed out. “If he tries anything, you’ll be the first to respond.”

Alistair grumbled. “I suppose that’s something.”

He did as he was bidden, taking out a knife and grabbing the assassin from behind, dragging him onto his feet. With a few, swift movements, the ropes binding Zevran fell away in pieces. He rubbed his wrists sorely, ignoring Alistair’s eyes boring holes into the back of his head.

“I hereby pledge my oath of loyalty to you, until such a time as you choose to release me from it. I am your man, without reservation.” Zevran bowed his head with some degree of solemnity. “This I swear.”

When he looked back up, his gaze met Callum’s again. He searched the depths of those rich, brown eyes, unsure of what he was really looking for. Zevran stared right back, unflinching, eyes gleaming with a hint of amusement.

“I daresay this could be a long and fulfilling partnership between you and I,” he said, a grin creeping across his face.

“For both our sakes,” Callum told him, “let’s hope so.”

Chapter Text

Lothering was in ruins. The darkspawn horde had sacked the village, torn through the buildings, and butchered those who had been unlucky enough to have stayed. There were relatively few of the beasts still haunting the ruins now, fortunately for Callum and his companions, but the party remained vigilant nonetheless. Leliana in particular kept an eye out, watching like a hawk, expertly picking off any hurlocks she spied lurking around the area. The group marched through the remains of Lothering in near-silence, either out of shock or respect for the fallen – or perhaps to avoid drawing the attention of any roving bands of darkspawn.

Barkspawn pawed his way through the rubble without any real difficulty, his talented nose leading him on his way. The mabari didn’t seem to be paying much attention to his surroundings, but stuck closely to the group as usual. It wasn’t until they came across a badly-damaged building on the village outskirts that Barkspawn bounded away from them, making for the ruined building.

“Barkspawn? What are you doing?” Callum studied the rubble his dog was now climbing around, frowning as a memory popped into his head. “Is this...?”

“What’s wrong, Cal?” Alistair was at his side, watching Barkspawn root through the collapsed wood and stone.

“I think Barkspawn and I visited this place before,” Callum explained. “When we were here last, I mean. There was a family living here, but...”

“Looks like they’re long gone,” Alistair observed, a melancholy note to his voice.

Callum could hear Barkspawn sniffing around the ruins, and called to him. “Those people aren’t here anymore, boy.”

Barkspawn looked up, eyes round and pitiful. He slunk back over to Callum, who gave the mabari’s head a firm rub.

“I know, boy, I know. Hopefully they managed to get away before...” Callum sighed and shook his head. “They’ll be alright.”

Barkspawn whined, nuzzling his partner’s hand with his snout.

“Were these people friends of yours?” Alistair asked.

“No. I’d never met them before in my life. Barkspawn seemed to take a liking to them, though.” He ruffled the dog’s head again. “You know something I don’t, hmm?”

The mabari barked once, eagerly.

Alistair chuckled. “Seems like it. He’s a good boy, that Barkspawn.”

Barkspawn gave another bark of agreement. There were footsteps behind them, and the two Wardens turned as Leliana approached.

“I’ve spotted a few figures amongst the trees on the far side of the village,” she said, pointing off to somewhere beyond the ruins. “It could be more darkspawn, or it could be bandits hoping to plunder these buildings.”

Alistair was silent for a moment. “...No, they’re definitely darkspawn, alright.”

Callum focused, reaching for that peculiar sensation at the back of his head, and found it easier than before. It was there, humming in his mind like a whispered song. “I sense them, too. They’ll find us if we stay here much longer.”

“It would not do to be caught in a battle amidst these ruins,” Morrigan commented. “Should we pursue these beasts now, or try to flee?”

“I don’t like the idea of letting these darkspawn wander about the place,” Alistair said. “But fighting them here could draw unwanted attention.”

“Then we keep moving,” Callum decided. “We’re Grey Wardens – they won’t stay away from us for long. If we go, they’ll follow. We can lead them where we want, or lay an ambush.”

Alistair cast a sidelong glance at Zevran, who was doing his best to look inconspicuous. “You could give us a hand. Maker knows you can lay a good ambush.”

“If I could lay a good ambush,” the Antivan responded, “you would not be here to criticise, my friend.”

Alistair grumbled. “Let’s just keep moving. We don’t want to be here when the sun goes down.”

They made their way out of the village, reaching the Imperial Highway again at last. From there, they would make their way west to Lake Calenhad, and then north. After that, well...Callum decided it was better not to dwell on it.

 

 

They made camp that evening along the highway as dusk fell. Winter was approaching, and the night wind brought with it a bitter chill that had most of the party clustered around the campfire, with Morrigan and Sten the only absentees. Barkspawn lay down atop Callum’s outstretched legs and promptly fell asleep, dooming the Warden to remain trapped underneath the mabari’s weight until he eventually awoke. Elsewhere, Alistair was speaking with Leliana, while Zevran was sharpening his daggers next to the fire.

“What was the name of that song you sang?” Alistair asked. “That night we left the forest?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know,” she replied, looking somewhat crestfallen. “The words are all in the elven tongue – one I never learned.”

“But you were able to sing it just fine,” Alistair pointed out.

“I know the words, but their meaning is beyond me.”

Alistair frowned, folding his arms against his broad chest. “Could you teach them to me?”

Leliana raised a curious eyebrow. “The song? I didn’t know you liked to sing, Alistair.”

“I don’t!” he protested, a little too hotly. “I just...I’d like to know the words. The elven language is so...” He sighed. “I don’t know. It gives me this weird feeling, right here.” He held a hand over his chest.

“Is that so?” Leliana cocked her head to the side. “I...believe I may understand what you mean. When I first heard this song, although I did not comprehend the meaning of the lyrics, I felt moved by their beauty.” She paused, before murmuring, “Vir sulahn'nehn.

“I’m sorry?”

“The song,” she clarified. “You wanted to learn the words?”

“Oh, right, yes. Of course.” Alistair hesitated. “Could you say it again?”

Vir sulahn'nehn.

Vir sulahn'nehn,” he echoed, the words falling from his mouth as though he’d spoken them a thousand times before.

Leliana smiled at him. “Very good. The next line is ‘Vir dirthera.’”

Vir dirthera,” Alistair repeated. “Am I saying that right?”

“You are,” Leliana reassured him. “Vir samahl la numin.”

Alistair repeated the phrase effortlessly, Callum noticing now that Zevran was paying close attention to the discussion – much like Callum himself was. The Antivan was still paring his blade, but his head was turned ever so slightly to the side, listening intently.

“The final part is ‘Vir ‘lath sa’vunin’.

Once again, Alistair echoed the elven words like a fluent speaker. “Is that all?”

Leliana giggled, amused by the young man’s eagerness. “That’s one part of the song, but you could try it all together, if you’d like?”

“Alright,” Alistair straightened his back, loosening up his shoulders and screwing up his face in concentration. “Now...what was the first line again?”

Vir sulahn'nehn,” she reminded him.

Vir sulahn'nehn,” he chanted. “Vir dirthera. Vir samahl la numin. Vir ‘lath sa’vunin.

Leliana blinked. “That’s...yes, well done.”

Alistair beamed with pride. “Not so difficult, now, is it?” His smile faltered for a moment. “I only wish I knew what it all meant.”

“What caused this fascination with the song?” Leliana asked. “Do you wish to learn the elven tongue?”

Alistair remained silent for a few seconds. “I...don’t know. Seeing the Dalish camp, with their aravels and the halla...” He shook his head. “It’s just a bit, well...amazing, really.”

Leliana smiled. “I agree. I’d never had the privilege of spending time among the Dalish before. Few humans have.”

“I’d like to go back,” Alistair said, after another few quiet moments. “Not now, I mean. But maybe when the Blight is over. Just to...you know.” He shrugged. “Talk, I suppose. I want to learn more about them – from them, and not from humans.”

“That’s a very positive attitude, Alistair,” Leliana told him. “There are very few humans who would believe the Dalish have anything of worth to say.”

Alistair glanced over at Callum, meeting his gaze, and realising he’d overheard the conversation. “What was that elvish phrase you told me a few days ago? You know, the one you picked up from the phylactery.”

Dirth’ena enasalin.” The words sprung to Callum’s lips at once, but they came out all wrong. He decided to try again. “Dirth’ena...enasalin.

Dirth’ena enasalin?” Alistair repeated flawlessly. Callum didn’t fail to notice a small smirk creeping across the corner of Zevran’s mouth that was visible to him, and he felt himself flush.

“Do you know what it means?” Alistair asked.

“‘Knowledge that leads to victory’,” he replied with ease. “It’s the name of an ancient elven discipline – the same kind that I use in battle now.”

Zevran turned to look at him. “And here I thought you had taught yourself to fight like that. But you say it was a...phylactery you learned this from?”

Callum grimaced. “I’m not so talented that I could teach myself how to wield a sword despite being a mage. I gained the knowledge roughly a week ago, from a slumbering spirit that had been trapped in a sort of container. It showed me this knowledge – the way of the Arcane Warrior – in exchange for ending its suffering.”

“How curious,” Zevran muttered. “But do not sell yourself so short, my Warden friend. Not many people have been able to best me in combat – certainly not those who had only been wielding a sword for a matter of days.” He winked, and Callum felt heat rising in his cheeks yet again.

“I may not have had as much practise as you,” Callum said, eyes looking anywhere but at Zevran. “But I know how to handle a weapon.”

Both of Zevran’s eyebrows rose sharply. “I’ll say,” he murmured.

A thought seemed to occur to Alistair just then, for his eyes widened and he leaned forwards. “Zevran, you’re an elf!”

Zevran barked a laugh. “How kind of you to notice.”

“No, no, what I mean is...” Alistair sighed, visibly flustered. “What I mean is you might speak some elvish.”

But Zevran shook his head. “I am afraid not. My knowledge of the elven tongue is little more than what I’ve heard spoken across this very campfire.”

Leliana blinked, brow creasing slightly in a gentle frown. “Did you not grow up in an alienage?”

“I did not,” he replied. “As a matter of fact, my mother was Dalish. She met a woodcutter in Antiva, and left her clan in order to live with him in the city. Alas, the woodcutter died some time later, and she became a whore to pay off his debts. She died giving birth to me, and I was then raised in the brothel where she had worked. To this day, I do not believe I have ever so much as set foot in an alienage.”

The camp fell silent, the all-encompassing quiet broken only by the occasional hoot from a nearby owl, or by the buzzing of insects.

“Zevran, that’s...” Callum didn’t know what else to say. He was saved from continuing his thought by the Antivan raising a hand.

“There is no need for pity,” he said. “It was a long time ago, and my years with the Crows have washed away most everything that came before.” He paused. “Andaran atish’an.”

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s an elven greeting, is it not? One of the few phrases I know. I can speak Antivan fluently, as well as Rivaini, a bit of Orlesian, some Qunlat, and Tevene. And, of course, I speak the trade tongue we are currently using. But I know hardly any of the language of my forebears.” He shrugged. “It is no tragedy to me, of course, but still...”

Andaran atish’an,” Alistair muttered, mostly to himself. “Andaran atish’an. We heard that in the Dalish camp, didn’t we?”

“We did,” Leliana said with a nod. “And ‘dareth shiral,’ also.”

Dareth shiral,” Alistair mimicked her. “Andaran atish’an. Dirth’ena enasalin. Vir dirthera. Vir samahl la numin. Vir ‘lath sa’vunin.” He continued chanting all of the phrases he had learned, much to the amusement of Leliana and Zevran.

“You speak the tongue like a native,” Zevran observed. “You know, they say that only those of elven blood can speak the language with fluency. By any chance, was one of your parents an elf?”

Alistair chuckled. “Haha, no. My mother was a serving girl in Redcliffe Castle – a human serving girl, might I add. And my father...” He swallowed. “He was no elf, I can promise you that.”

“Did you know your parents well?” Leliana asked him.

“Not exactly, but...” Alistair shook his head. “Look, this is ridiculous, alright? Neither of my parents were elves.”

Zevran shrugged again. “Maybe not. A grandparent, then? After all, half-human and half-elven children tend to look almost indistinguishable from humans.”

“Who knows?” Alistair grumbled, his good humour seemingly having evaporated. “I don’t...I don’t like talking about my parents. Arl Eamon is the man who raised me – he is my family. The ones who were responsible for my birth, well...they don’t matter to me. Not as much as Eamon.”

Barkspawn took that moment to roll over in his sleep, freeing one of Callum’s legs at long last. He gingerly rubbed the feeling back into his numb limb, pondering over everything he’d just heard.

“You should be proud of your heritage,” Leliana told Alistair. “We would be nothing without our ancestors, you know.”

“But you don’t have to let your past define you,” Callum said. “The people your parents were, the person who you were – neither of those things have to define who you are now. We can be shaped by our pasts, but our present is what counts.”

A small, sad smile was playing upon Leliana’s lips. “Yes...that may be true, also.”

For a time, the sound of the campfire crackling was the only noise to be heard. Even the woods themselves and the denizens that lived within it seemed to have hushed. Alistair was the first to rise.

“I’m going to bed,” he announced. “Goodnight.”

There was a chorus of replies as Alistair strode away from the campfire, making for his tent. Leliana rose not long afterwards, bidding them goodnight in turn as she left for her own tent. Zevran turned to face Callum, eyes glimmering with mischief.

“Well, then, my Warden friend. Shall we retire to our tent, also?”

“It’s my tent,” Callum pointed out. “You’re just staying in it since we have none to spare.”

Zevran swooned melodramatically. “Ahh, such cruel barbs! How my heart breaks! Will my quest to woo the Grey Warden ever bear fruit?”

Callum nodded to the slumbering mabari that was still sprawled out over his right leg. “If you can get this sleepy boy off of me, I’ll let you woo me as long as you want.” He had a wry grin on his face, but had only been half-joking.

Zevran hesitated, swallowing nervously. “Hmmm...” He got to his feet. “On second thought, perhaps I shall just turn in for the evening. Goodnight!” he chirped, practically skipping away to Callum’s tent.

The Warden was left alone by the fire, with only his sleeping partner for company. He rubbed Barkspawn’s belly with a mixture of fondness and bemusement. “What am I to do with you?”

Barkspawn grumbled in his sleep – Callum liked to imagine he was dreaming of chasing a nice, plump hare through endless fields in the Fade. If dogs even could visit the Fade...

Callum sighed and settled down onto the ground, lying on his back. Now that they were far away from the forest again, the night sky in all its beauty was his to study once again. He supposed having Barkspawn keeping him stuck outside his tent wasn’t all bad, really.

Chapter Text

Throughout the camp, all was still. The night wind swept through the trees, brushing against the outside of tents, sending ashes scattering from the remains of the campfire that had died only a short time ago. The woods were bathed in silvery moonlight, and somewhere, an owl hooted as it hunted its nocturnal prey. Though night time had long since settled in, several of the people camping there were still awake.

Callum’s eyes were locked on the fabric of his tent’s roof, his ears trying desperately to block out all sources of noise except for one. The night air was still, and he didn’t have to try too hard to make out the sound he was searching for. From a few metres to his left, a moan cut through the hush of the camp, soon followed by another in the same tone. Callum clenched his teeth, trying to suppress making a similar sound himself as his hand picked up speed, gripping the shaft of his cock tightly and stroking with determination. He wondered dimly through the feverish haze of pleasure clinging to his thoughts whether Alistair knew just how loud he was being. The man had spent much of his life in a chantry, after all – had he always been so vocal in taking his pleasure? Perhaps he simply thought that his tent muffled all noise coming from inside, an idea that Callum could most certainly refute.

He’d first overheard one of Alistair’s late-night masturbation sessions while they’d been camping in the Brecilian forest – thoughts of darkspawn and the Blight having kept the young mage awake even longer than usual. The two Wardens almost always set their tents up next to one another, and so Callum had been able to hear Alistair’s groans of bliss as clearly as if they’d been sharing a tent. Overhearing a friend pleasuring themselves was nothing new to him, of course – he’d had to share his quarters with the other apprentices his own age for the entirety of his youth. He’d quickly gotten used to the sounds of his peers moaning softly through the night, whether alone or in pairs (or occasionally trios). After all, there was nothing shameful or unusual about it – a lot of people simply needed sexual stimulation. Callum himself had been no different, often joining his fellow apprentices in masturbating, adding to the gentle cries of ecstasy that would fill the apprentice quarters until long after curfew.

But there was something different about overhearing Alistair doing the same. Callum couldn’t deny his attraction to the handsome young Warden – after all, the two of them were the same age, and Callum hadn’t been able to help but notice how Alistair was all bulk and muscle underneath his armour on the few occasions he’d glimpsed as much. And having spent the night in Alistair’s tent only a short time previously, the sound of Alistair pleasuring himself conjured up some extremely vivid imagery. The thought of someone so attractive taking his pleasure only a few scant feet from where Callum lay was enough to make him want to ‘take matters into his own hands’ – as Alistair himself had put it. After the third night of overhearing the other Grey Warden masturbating in a row, Callum’s hand had almost subconsciously drifted towards his cock, which pressed against the sheet covering his naked body as though begging for release. Callum had granted himself that release, his moans joining with Alistair’s into the night.

What had been a brief moment’s pleasure soon became a nightly occurrence for Callum. Before becoming a Grey Warden, one climax had been enough to satisfy Callum for an entire night, if not longer. But now, especially with the encouragement of the delectable sounds Alistair made while pleasuring himself, Callum usually had to bring himself to orgasm two or three times before his cock grew limp once again, the skin on his shaft feeling raw and tender from the friction his hands would inflict on it over and over.

On this particular night, camped out somewhere near the outskirts of the Hinterlands, Callum was having trouble reaching his climax. He tried picturing Alistair as he usually did: concentrating on the image in his mind’s eye of the other Warden lying naked in his tent, perspiration clinging to his well-muscled body, writhing in ecstasy and letting out a shout as his seed spilled out over his fingers, dripping onto his belly like hot wax. But not even Alistair’s fervent cries could help Callum ignore the fact that his own tent was occupied no longer just by himself. He could hear the sound of his new companion’s breathing, letting out a gentle snore on occasion, as he slept on the far side of the tent. Zevran had only joined the party a few days ago, and had spent the nights since sleeping in Callum’s tent. Callum had volunteered to watch the Antivan, who seemed completely at ease amongst the people he had tried to kill less than a week beforehand. He hadn’t shown any signs of wanting to hurt anyone anymore, although the others had warned Callum not to let himself be lulled into a false sense of security. Logical thought told him that Zevran had no reason to try and kill them anymore, and indeed was relying on them for his own safety now that he had failed the Crows. It was that same logic that Callum used to try and reassure himself that he was in no danger by sharing a tent with an assassin.

Really, the biggest difficulty in having Zevran in his tent was the alteration to his usual night time activities: Alistair was being as active as ever, but Callum had been too nervous to attempt joining in when there was another person sleeping in his tent. But the ache in his cock had been too much for him to ignore for more than a few nights in a row, and he was sure the lack of release was affecting his performance during the daytime. So, as stealthily as he could manage, Callum had slipped out of his smallclothes while remaining under his blanket, and had begun stroking himself, trying to match rhythm with the grunts coming from the tent beside his. He’d taken to biting his own lip in an effort to keep himself quiet, but the occasional spikes of pleasure that coursed through his body made him want to cry out in exultation. He didn’t doubt that Zevran was a light sleeper, and the furious battle between trying to stay quiet and giving himself over to the pleasure building inside him was a struggle for Callum.

He had yet to finish when Alistair let out a familiar ecstatic shout, signalling that he had had his first orgasm of the night. The sound reverberated around the forest clearing, echoing into the night. Callum grit his teeth as he tightened his grip, trying desperately to work himself into a similar state. He didn’t notice until it was far too late that the snoring coming from the far side of the tent had ceased.

“He truly is very enthusiastic, that Alistair.”

The voice came out of the darkness, its tone both impressed and amused. Callum lurched, gasping in surprise rather than pleasure, twisting around frantically to spy Zevran lying on the opposite side of the tent, his eyes wide open and glittering with mirth. The elf had propped himself up on one elbow and was facing Callum, with the thin sheet he had for a blanket rolled down until it was covering his body only from the waist down. Even in the darkness, Callum could make out the Antivan’s toned torso, muscles bulging out from under the dark flesh. He’d refused to watch each night as Zevran had made a show of stripping off before getting into bed, but now he was beginning to regret his own prudence.

“Oh, please, don’t allow me to interrupt.” In the gloom, Callum could see Zevran’s teeth bared in a grin. He waved a hand in Callum’s direction, gesturing to the mage’s body, still hidden under his blanket. “I do not wish to intrude upon your...late night exertions.”

Callum flushed, feeling embarrassed at having been caught red handed – literally. “Go back to sleep,” he grunted, rolling over so that he had his back turned to the Antivan.

“Ah, it is rather difficult for me to do so with all this noise,” Zevran pointed out. “And the idea of two highly attractive men taking their pleasure so close to me is quite a tantalising one, I must say.”

Callum swallowed, his heartbeat drumming in his ears. It wasn’t the first time the Zevran had flirted with him: the Antivan had passed more than a few suggestive comments towards him and several other of his companions. Callum had admittedly enjoyed the attention, and had even responded in kind once or twice before catching himself. But Zevran had never been quite so brazen in his intentions before now. From the other tent, Alistair let out another groan – no doubt having begun his second round. Callum felt heat rising in his body, a feeling of lust and need that made his head pound. His hand, still grasping his cock firmly, began to stroke once again.

“I understand your reluctance to trust me, I really do. But I feel I must inform you that my talents do not lie merely in assassination. I happen to be as skilled at giving pleasure as I am at inflicting pain.”

Callum rolled back over to face the elf, but said nothing. Zevran’s eyes flitted to the shape of Callum’s hand beneath the blanket as it moved up and down.

Zevran continued. “I simply cannot bear to see a companion of mine struggling to satisfy themselves. So I am offering my assistance.” He paused. “If you are uncomfortable, of course you may decline.”

Callum knew that he should’ve been more hesitant. But Zevran’s words and his warm, honeyed voice had conjured up images of the two of them tangled in each other’s limbs, the elf’s lithe body hot and firm against his, and the intensity of the vision made Callum moan in desire.

“Please,” he breathed.

Zevran nodded, throwing the blanket off of his naked body and crawling across the tent to join Callum. He caught a momentary glimpse of his cock, erect and lying flat against his stomach, as Zevran reached him and sat up on his knees. Two hands reached out, fingers dancing delicately over Callum’s clavicles as they played with the hem of his blanket. He shot Callum a look, one eyebrow raised, asking him nonverbally if this was what he wanted. Callum gave a nod in reply, gasping as the blanket was rolled down and his bare skin was exposed to the cool night air. Zevran’s hands pressed against Callum’s nipples, lingering there for a moment before slowly dragging themselves down his naked torso. Even that was enough to make Callum moan softly, his back arching to push himself against Zevran’s hands. Flames, it had been so long since he’d even been touched like this, let alone had sex. Before his Harrowing, before leaving the Circle, before Ostagar...

Zevran shuffled on his knees over towards Callum’s legs, which he settled himself down beside. Meanwhile, his hands had reached Callum’s navel, where the blanket had been rolled down to. He hesitated there for a moment, glancing up at the Warden once again for confirmation that he had permission to continue. Callum nodded, breathing a sigh as Zevran pulled back the blanket and his cock was freed. The Antivan made a small noise of approval at the sight that now lay before him, and his tongue slipped out from between his lips to moisten them gently. He lowered himself down towards Callum’s body.

“I want to suck your cock, if you’ll allow me?”

Callum nodded hurriedly. “Y-Yes, please.”

He chuckled at the needy note in the Warden’s voice. “I hope you don’t mind me saying this,” Zevran murmured, his breath warm against Callum’s thigh, “but you really are quite the vision.”

Callum felt his face flush despite himself at the elf’s honeyed words. Whatever response he’d been about to make, however, died in his throat as Zevran’s tongue began lathering the underside of his cock, working its way up his shaft towards his head. Instead, Callum groaned as a spark of pleasure raced up his spine. The sound was echoed by Alistair, evidently already determinedly working his way towards his next climax. Zevran’s tongue reached the tip of Callum’s cock, where it lingered for a moment. His eyes glittered with mischief and desire as they flickered upwards to meet the mage’s, before giving him a wink. Callum clenched his jaw in an effort to stay relatively quiet as Zevran’s lips enveloped his head, but the elf’s mouth felt like the softest, warmest satin in all of Thedas. Callum couldn’t help but cry out, before hurriedly clamping a hand down over his mouth, embarrassed by just how loud the noise had been. Almost immediately, the pressure on his cock eased as Zevran lifted his head up.

“Don’t worry,” he said, in a reassuring tone, “no one is going to hear you.”

“B-But Alistair...”

“Alistair is likely too caught up in his own pleasure to listen to you enjoying yours.”

A heated shout came from the next tent, as if on cue. Zevran snickered as he lowered his mouth back down towards Callum’s cock. This time, Callum made no attempt to silence himself, letting his moans grow louder and louder as Zevran continued to pleasure him. A hand closed around the base of Callum’s shaft, with Zevran cupping his balls gently with his other hand. Zevran’s lips slid up and down the length of Callum’s cock, gliding like a dream, tongue hot and wet against the Warden’s sensitive flesh. The hand grasping Callum’s shaft was moving in a similar motion, massaging his cock with a firm, relentless stroke. Callum’s hips began to buck, heat pooling in his gut as pleasure built up inside him, begging for release.

“Ohhh, yes!” Callum hissed, inhibitions dying away as Zevran skilfully worked him over. He was already close, his orgasm surging like a storm, almost animalistic noises dragging themselves from his throat over and over again. His fingers scraped against the fabric of the tent floor, desperately searching for purchase. A sharp moan from somewhere to his left informed him that Alistair was coming, and violently, and the mental picture thereof was as arousing to him as the image of Zevran sucking his cock.

“Z-Zevran, I’m about to-”

But he didn’t stop, choosing instead to quicken his pace, his hands and mouth working effortlessly in tandem. Callum moaned in ecstasy, the noise sounding deafeningly loud in the close confines of the tent, as did his shout as he finally came undone. He felt his body spasming as pleasure coursed through him in waves, making him shudder from head to toe. Zevran didn’t ease up, his mouth sealed tightly around Callum’s head until every last drop of his seed had been swallowed.

Callum’s head swam, breath coming in ragged gasps, his cock feeling as though it was on fire. There was a quiet pop as Zevran relinquished him from his mouth, Callum’s member slowly falling limp against his belly. The Antivan held his gaze as he wiped his mouth slowly, fingers dragging delicately against those soft lips, and Callum suddenly wanted nothing more than to kiss them. But when he tried to sit up, Zevran pushed him back down onto the ground, shaking his head gently.

“Not tonight,” he whispered, a pleased smirk tugging at one corner of his mouth.

Callum eyed Zevran’s cock, still throbbing proudly between his legs. “But what about...?”

“Another time,” Zevran promised, already crawling away from him. “Should you so choose.”

Callum wanted nothing more than to follow Zevran across the tent and devour him in turn, especially when a shaft of moonlight poking in through the tent flap illuminated the elf’s body for a moment, and he caught a glimpse of Zevran’s naked ass moving steadily away from him. But Zevran had made his boundaries clear, and Callum wasn’t about to show the Antivan any less respect and patience than he had shown him. As Zevran hopped back under the blanket, Callum saw a flash of teeth as the Antivan grinned at him, his hungry expression promising more to come.

Callum felt a shiver run down his spine and a warm glow heat up his face as he drifted off to sleep.

 

 

The next day proved to be nothing short of torturous. Callum spent the whole day in a daze, miles of Ferelden countryside passing by without him noticing as they marched north. They had a lot of ground to cover still before they had reached their next destination, but all Callum wanted to do was spend the day in his tent with Zevran, the two of them wrapped up in each other’s arms, bodies writhing together. The sensation of the man’s mouth on his cock lingered in Callum’s thoughts and refused to fade away even as morning became afternoon. It didn’t help, of course, how frequently he ran into the elven man that day – whether it was while they marched or as they lunched, Zevran seemed to be nearer to him than usual. For the first time, Callum was glad he’d decided to start wearing armour instead of robes – his arousal was that much easier to hide beneath a heavy layer of mail. If any of the other party members had overheard himself and Zevran the night before, or noticed the currently-heightened level of tension between them, none of them mentioned as much. Even Alistair seemed blissfully unaware of what had gone on between the two men in the tent next to his.

At last, evening came, and immediately after they had finished setting up camp, Callum announced in a loud, clear voice that he was tired and heading to bed early, resisting the temptation to look at Zevran as he did so. Nobody objected to his early retiring, and so Callum slipped away back to his tent. Once he was inside, he immediately stripped out of all his clothes and clambered under the blanket, trying intently to ignore the aching hardness of his cock. It took all his strength of will to not begin stroking himself, knowing that in his current state of arousal he could all too easily bring himself to the edge in no time at all. And so, Callum lay there in his tent, waiting for Zevran to arrive.

It seemed like an entire age had passed before the tent flap opened again and the Antivan entered, his eyes locking at once with Callum’s.

“I hope I didn’t keep you waiting,” Zevran murmured in that silken tone of his, the look in his eyes indicating that he knew full well the state he’d been leaving Callum in by delaying his return to the tent.

The Warden let out a noise that was somewhere between a grunt and a whine, making Zevran snicker. He began removing his clothes at a ponderous speed, each item of clothing being dragged across his skin with such a painful sluggishness that it made Callum whimper quietly. This time, Callum didn’t take his eyes off the other man for even a moment, his gaze sweeping over every inch of Zevran’s body, taking in the rich brown skin and toned physique in the half-light cast by the campfire outside. He zeroed in on the surprisingly-large bulge in Zevran’s smallclothes once his breeches had been discarded. Grinning at Callum’s blatant interest, Zevran teasingly slid his smallclothes down his waist, the fabric catching against the half-erection beneath.

“Like what you see, Warden?”

Callum nodded, feeling saliva pooling in his mouth as Zevran slipped out of his underclothes at last, revealing his naked body in its entirety. Zevran gripped his cock, which was growing harder by the second, and took a few steps closer to where Callum lay.

“Want a taste?”

Callum obediently sat up right away, tossing the blanket aside and crawling the short distance between himself and Zevran. Zevran let go of his cock as Callum’s hand replaced his, taking hold of the shaft at the base and taking in the impressive sight before his eyes. Now that he could see it up close, it didn’t seem as though Zevran’s cock was much smaller than his own – remarkable, given how much taller Callum was than the elf.

“I didn’t realise you’d be so...big,” Callum muttered numbly.

“One of my many gifts,” Zevran responded with a chuckle, which only grew louder when the tip of Callum’s tongue began licking the underside of Zevran’s shaft, working itself from base to head and then back again, stroking with his hand as he went. By the time Callum took Zevran’s head fully into his mouth, after some degree of teasing, he felt a bead of fluid touch his tongue. A quiet thrill raced through him at the thought of how aroused he had made the elf, who let out a gentle groan as Callum began to move down his length, effortlessly easing Zevran into his mouth. He sank down on Zevran’s cock until his lips met the knuckle of his index finger, still gripped tightly around the shaft, then pulled back again, leaving a moist trail of saliva behind. He repeated the movement, his mouth and his hand working together in unison. After a few more repetitions, he earned another groan from Zevran, and suppressed a grin. The needy tugging in his gut could wait – all he wanted now was to make Zevran come.

And he did, quite fervently, only a few scant minutes after Callum had begun. Callum had grabbed Zevran’s hip with his free hand and was pushing it back and forward, sliding him between Callum’s lips even as he stroked faster than ever before. Zevran’s hands were tangled in Callum’s hair, sifting aimlessly through his dark locks as though searching for something to grip. Callum felt those fingers tense up, along with the rest of Zevran’s body, as his orgasm began to swell. He cried out loudly in Antivan as he came, the foreign word unfamiliar to Callum’s ears. Warm, thick liquid hit the roof of Callum’s mouth, and he swallowed it all down as though he were parched. Zevran staggered and swayed on the spot as though physically struck, panting heavily as his climax gradually died down. Callum relinquished Zevran’s cock and sat back on his heels, grinning up at the elf.

“Goodness,” Zevran murmured between laboured breaths. “Had I known you were so...experienced, perhaps I would have let you pleasure me before now.”

Zevran knelt down to join Callum, legs still quivering slightly, and now they were face to face, mouths inches apart. Their first kiss was sudden, heated, and over far too quickly for Callum’s liking. Fortunately, it was swiftly followed by their second and third. Zevran’s hands pressed against Callum’s shoulders, and the mage let himself be pushed down to lie flat on his back on the blanket. Zevran clambered on top of him, his mouth seeking Callum’s once more. Zevran was as good at kissing as he was at every other intimate activity, of course – his lips and tongue brushed against Callum with the perfect mixture of firmness and gentleness, making the Warden moan softly against his mouth. Callum was still ferociously hard, his cock now wedged firmly between his abdomen and Zevran’s. He’d put his own needs to the back of his mind while he pleasured Zevran, but now his heartbeat was drumming in his ears as desire raged within him like a storm. He thrust his hips upwards in an attempt to feel some sort of friction, but Zevran had clearly been anticipating the move, for his pulled his body away, drawing a frustrated keen from Callum.

“Fuck,” he groaned, the ache in his groin drowning out his every other need. “Zevran, please...”

His eyes glimmered with mischievous glee. “I could get used to seeing you like this,” he whispered, and he finally lowered himself back down to Callum, straddling his thighs and pushing their torsos together once again.

For someone so small and slender, Zevran seemed to carry an awful lot of lower body strength – something Callum couldn’t help but notice as Zevran rocked back and forth atop him. His toned body thrust against Callum’s, stimulating the sensitive underside of Callum’s cock as it was trapped between them. Each thrust sent a jolt of pleasure through Callum that was almost painful in its intensity. He grunted, the sound dampened by Zevran’s mouth on his as they kissed deeply, never slowing down the rhythm they’d built up. Zevran seemed as though he were hungry for Callum’s flesh: his mouth caressed and tugged at every part of the mage’s body he could reach. His hands were clamped firmly on Callum’s shoulders, holding onto him like a lifeline, not daring to let go. Callum raked his fingernails down Zevran’s back and relished the way the smaller man squirmed against his touch.

Before long, Callum’s moaning grew louder and higher-pitched as the pleasure swelling up inside him began to crest. Zevran took this as his cue to double his efforts, hips moving against Callum’s upper thighs with incredible vigour, sending him over the edge with an exhilarated shout. Zevran’s thrusts quickly slowed, becoming more languid, riding out Callum’s orgasm with ease. Extracting his head from where it had been resting against Callum’s shoulder, Zevran planted a kiss on the underside of his jaw and murmured gently against his cheek.

“You really do make the most exquisite sounds, my dear Warden.”

Callum flushed, more from exertion than embarrassment. He lifted a hand up to stroke the back of Zevran’s head. “I’m glad you think so. I doubt the others would agree, though...”

It was at that moment that there was a scurrying noise from outside the tent, like the sound of paws on soft earth, followed by a familiar bark. Callum didn’t even have time to cry out in warning as the tent flap burst open and a mass of fur and teeth came barrelling through, flecks of slobber splashing about the interior.

“Barkspawn, no!” Callum shouted as the dog tackled Zevran to the floor, growling ferociously just inches from his face. Zevran yelped as Barkspawn pushed him against the ground, teeth bared in a vicious snarl. “Down, boy! Down!”

One of his commands must have reached the mabari’s ears, for he lifted his head to meet Callum’s eye after another few moments of staring down his helpless victim on the tent floor. Barkspawn caught sight of the furious and somewhat mortified expression on his master’s face, and his snarl vanished almost immediately. He looked back down to Zevran’s terrified face, then looked up at Callum again, and seemed to piece together what was going on. With a certain amount of reluctance, Barkspawn clambered off of Zevran, who huddled up against Callum for protection.

“Please say your dog isn’t going to eat me,” he muttered.

“He’s not going to eat you, Zevran,” Callum reassured him, rubbing one of his shoulders as a meagre gesture of support. “It was just a...misunderstanding. Right, boy?”

Barkspawn still looked unimpressed by what he’d bounded in on, but he barked once in reply, clearly understanding what his master was saying. Before anyone could make another move, the sound of heavy footsteps came from outside the tent, making Zevran groan...

“Oh, no-”

...just as Alistair barged in, pushing the tent flap open with one hand while the other gripped his sword.

“What’s going on in here?!” he demanded, face twisted with fury. “If you’ve done anything with Callum, elf, I’ll...I’ll...”

Alistair blinked as he took in the scene before his eyes – a drooling mabari sitting placidly next to a former-assassin and a Grey Warden, both utterly naked and drenched with sweat. The moonlight now streaming in through the open tent flap made the puddle of white fluid on Callum’s abdomen glisten, and not even Alistair could mistake the smell that permeated inside the tent.

He stammered, mouth agape. “You...he...I...” Both Callum and Zevran watched as Alistair’s face turned from a furious red to a bright pink, before going right back to red again. “...Oh, sweet Maker!”

“Get out, for fuck’s sake!” Callum snapped, humiliation lending his voice strength, and the other Warden obediently retreated back through the tent flap through which he’d entered, spluttering apologies. “You, too, Barkspawn.”

The mabari let out a whine, his ears drooping down slightly. If it was a ploy to earn sympathy from his master, it worked, for Callum sighed and gave the dog a quick scratch behind the ear.

“I still love you, Barky. But the tent is for me and my...special guests only. If I need you, I’ll give you a whistle, alright?”

Barkspawn gave a bark of understanding, leaning in to lick his master’s face affectionately. Callum giggled, but still firmly pushed his loyal mabari towards the exit. Only when Barkspawn had left and the tent flap had shut once more did Zevran relax at last.

“That dog will be the death of me,” he grumbled, prompting Callum to laugh again.

“Not if you behave yourself,” he promised, only for Zevran’s hand to slide all the way down from his shoulder to his lower back, tracing the outline of his spine as he went.

“I do so hate behaving myself.” Zevran’s whispered voice was hot against his ear, drawing an involuntary shudder out of the mage. In addition, Callum felt something stiff and warm pressing against his upper thigh.

“Didn’t think you’d still be raring to go after everything that just happened.”

“I always crave sex after a near-death experience,” Zevran said with a light chuckle, before grunting in surprise as Callum practically shoved him to the floor and climbed atop him.

“Suits me,” he murmured, before he let his mouth busy itself with other things.

Before he completely lost track of all coherent thought, Callum realised something: for the first time in weeks, he hadn’t thought of Alistair at all while being pleasured. In fact, he hadn’t thought of anyone besides the man now squirming beneath him, eyes gleaming with mischief and desire. He’d all but forgotten his Warden companion even existed until he’d come blundering into the tent. He wasn’t so foolish as to think his feelings for Alistair had dwindled so soon, but now he had something (or rather, someone) very enjoyable to help take his mind off of things. Zevran knew it, too – he could see it in those gorgeous eyes. Zevran knew he had Callum hooked, and he loved every last second of it.

What’s the worst that could happen? Callum wondered, as he gave himself over to pleasure once again.

Chapter Text

Callum caught sight of the tower before anyone else did. It was hardly surprising – after all, he’d been scanning the horizon all morning in an effort to spot their destination. He’d even found himself walking at the front of the party, despite the armour still weighing him down. He supposed it was a sign that he was finally getting used to wearing it, or perhaps he had gotten stronger still since leaving the Brecilian Forest behind?

Lake Calenhad was vast – one of the largest of its kind in all of Thedas, and as such it provided numerous stunning vistas to anyone passing by along the Imperial Highway. As it was now, however, the waters were hidden behind a thick layer of mist. For that reason, it had taken him some time to spot the tower of Kinloch Hold through the fog. But there was no mistaking its familiar, foreboding shape, even if he had only seen it from the lake’s shores twice in his life. The topmost tip of the tower protruded above the mists like a mountain peak, soaring towards the sky. Even from this distance, it was enough to make Callum’s heart pound.

“Cal...!”

He turned upon hearing Alistair calling him. The other Warden was marching up to him, expression murky beneath his visor.

“Yes?”

“What’s gotten into you? You’re going to leave the rest of us behind at this rate.”

Callum peered over Alistair’s shoulder to see the rest of the group coming towards them, still quite some distance away.

“I was...just scouting ahead,” Callum muttered without any real conviction. Unsurprisingly, Alistair didn’t believe him.

“You’ve never done that before. And certainly not with all that heavy armour on. Come on, what’s the matter?”

“Nothing!” he protested. “Who are you, some sort of Chantry mother, nagging at me like this?”

Alistair folded his arms, glaring at him. “Alright, well now I know something’s wrong.”

Callum’s mouth opened and shut wordlessly as he quailed under Alistair’s gaze. “Sorry, I...I just...” He shook himself. “Let’s keep walking.”

“You don’t want to wait for the others?”

“I’d rather not be overheard.”

“What? Why not?”

“I don’t want them to think that I’m...” Callum blew air out from his nose. “...that I’m afraid.”

“Afraid? What difference does it make if...?” Callum watched as Alistair’s head turned in the direction of the tower, still visible above the fog. “Oh. I think I understand.”

“You’d know better than the rest of them.”

“You’re probably right. If I ever had to go back to that chantry, I’d...well, I wouldn’t be thrilled, to say the least.”

“When I left,” Callum said, “I swore I’d never come back – not even if my life depended on it. There’s too much history there, too much pain, too much anguish and suffering.” He sighed. “But it’s not just about me anymore.”

“When you’re a Grey Warden, nothing is.”

“We need the mages to help fight the darkspawn – it’s one of reasons the Chantry keeps us locked up in Circles in the first place. Or so they say.”

“The Chantry says a lot of things,” Alistair commented. “And I’ll be a mabari’s uncle if they’re all true.”

Callum laughed, before casting a glance at his companion. “Why are you always so patient with me?”

“You were there for me after Ostagar,” Alistair said. “I...I didn’t think that pain would ever go away. I still don’t. But you never lost your temper with me or told me to stop whining.”

“You weren’t whining,” Callum told him.

“And neither are you, now. You’ve got plenty of reasons to be anxious about going back to the Circle, even as a Grey Warden. But I’ll stand with you, and so will the others. What’s the worst that could happen with us by your side?”

“Ugh, don’t say that!” Callum complained. “Knowing my luck, I’ll bump into the knight-commander as soon as we walk inside, and suddenly I’ll feel like a fucking child again, cowering from the templars.”

“From what you’ve told me of your time in the Circle, you were never the sort to ‘cower from the templars’.”

“I wasn’t always like that,” Callum said. “When I first arrived, I just...cried. A lot. I wanted nothing more than to go back to my mother and our home. The older apprentices laughed and called me a baby – some of the templars did too.”

“So, what changed?”

“One day, I...I got tired. Some young templar greenhorn was flexing his newfound power over the apprentices, pushing me around, and made me burst into tears in front of every apprentice in the tower, all over some minor mistake. I was with my friend, Jowan, at the time, and he got lumped in with me, as usual. But it was different when the templar started tearing into Jowan instead of me...” Callum lifted his gauntleted hands, staring at them as he relived the memory from so long ago. “I...I didn’t feel like crying anymore. I saw the way my friend was being treated, and I realised I wasn’t upset anymore. I was just angry. Furiously, indignantly angry. So I hit him.”

Alistair gaped. “You hit him? The templar, you mean?”

“With my bare fist. Whack! Straight into his armour.”

“I imagine that wasn’t very effective.”

“Oh, quite the contrary. I unleashed a telekinetic blast at the same time that I struck. I didn’t even mean to do it – I just wanted him to leave Jowan alone.”

“A telekinetic blast...?”

“You’ve seen me use it before, whenever I was casting with my staff and the darkspawn got too close.”

“Oh!” Alistair snorted. “Oh, I see. Sent him flying away, did you?”

“Like a fucking bird.”

Alistair laughed aloud, the noise rattling around in his helmet like a swarm of insects. “That must have been something to see! In front of all the apprentices, no less?”

“That’s right. Nobody ever called me a baby after that.”

“So what did that poor templar after you embarrassed him so beautifully?”

“Ironically, he ran off crying after he’d picked himself up. Of course, every silver lining has a cloud. He went and told the knight-commander what happened right away.”

“Ouch,” Alistair grumbled.

“You’re telling me. I got dragged by the ear all the way up to the First-Enchanter’s office. It was my first time meeting Irving face-to-face, and far from the last. I didn’t know what to expect at the time, but before long, all his lectures started to sound the same. ‘Don’t bother the templars’, he’d say, ‘and you’ll get by.’ Old fool didn’t have a clue.

“Anyway, after that point, I got a reputation for being a troublemaker in the tower. Always toeing the line just enough to escape severe punishment, but always causing headaches for the templars. I made sure to look out for my friends and fellow apprentices from then on, and I never cried again. ‘Never get sad when you can get mad’, I told myself.”

“There’s some wisdom in that, maybe,” Alistair said. “Did that templar ever try to harass you again?”

“Oh, him?” Callum chuckled. “They sent him away to another Circle about a week later. Montsimmard, I think. Apparently, he needed to serve in a location that was less...strenuous.”

Alistair laughed again, and Callum joined in. The knot of tension that had lurked in his gut since spotting the tower had loosened somewhat, and for that, Callum was grateful.

“Thank you, Al,” he said, surprised by the ease at which the nickname came to his lips.

“That’s a new one,” the other Warden said, with a note of amusement. “Nobody’s ever called me that before.”

“I won’t do it again,” Callum began, only for Alistair to shake his head.

“I like it. Al and Cal – the mighty duo!”

Callum chortled. “We sound like more a pair of travelling minstrels than Grey Wardens.”

“We can work on it,” Alistair reassured him. “Anyway, I’m glad I could help.  – a little bit, at least.” He paused. “Not nearly as much as a certain Antivan seems to, though.”

Callum groaned. “Is now really the time?”

“We have to talk about it at some stage,” Alistair said with a shrug.

“Why? What is there to talk about?”

“Well, I’m just a bit concerned that you might be getting a bit...close with a man who tried to kill you only a week ago.”

“Your ‘concern’ is noted,” Callum said flatly.

“He’s still dangerous, Cal.”

“That’s why we spared him, remember? He’s useful.”

“Well, you’re certainly making use of him.”

“Am I not allowed to have sex, Alistair? Is that what this is about?”

Alistair winced. “Look, all I’m saying is that you’re making yourself very vulnerable to someone who could kill you at a moment’s notice.”

“He hasn’t yet,” Callum pointed out.

“And what if that’s all part of his plan to lull you into a false sense of security?”

“Well, then, so long as he keeps on ‘lulling’ me until the Blight’s over, I’m not worried.”

“So, this isn’t just a...one-time incident?”

“Hopefully not, no. And, either way, it’s not your concern.

“Are you sure there isn’t anything else to be said about this?” Alistair prodded.

“What do you mean?” Callum snapped, patience evaporating at last. “What do you want me to say? I’m fucking Zevran. Sometimes, he fucks me. That’s it. It’s not that difficult to understand, surely?”

“Oh, dear,” a voice called from behind them both. “Perhaps I should cover my ears?”

The two Wardens looked sharply behind to see that the party had almost caught up with them both. It was Zevran who had spoken – the Antivan being the closest of the group to them. One of his eyebrows was quirked upwards in amusement, his teeth bared in a grin. Leliana had the grace to be pretending to examine the trees along the highway. Both Morrigan and Sten kept staring straight ahead, utterly uninterested. Even Barkspawn seemed to be looking sheepish. Beneath his helmet, Callum felt his face heat up.

“I...it was...he...you...we...” Alistair cycled through a host of monosyllabic words in his embarrassment, before turning back to face the road ahead. “It doesn’t matter! Everything’s alright! Let’s keep moving!”

Alistair marched ahead, ironically moving far ahead of the rest of the group, much like Callum had done earlier. Zevran appeared at Callum’s side, watching the other Warden with amusement.

“Has he been bothering you?”

Callum shook his head. “It’s nothing serious. He wanted to talk about...well, you and me, but I wasn’t having it.”

Zevran sighed. “Is this a Ferelden thing? This...fascination with who sleeps with whom? It’s not because we are two men, is it?”

“I don’t think so,” Callum replied. “Anyway, don’t worry about it.”

“Fair enough,” Zevran said, putting the matter to rest with a carefree smile. “So, this Circle tower...it is your former home, yes?”

“It was never really a ‘home’ to me,” Callum said.

“Ahh, I believe I understand. Well, we all must face the ghosts of our pasts at some stage.” He paused. “But you’d be surprised how long you can keep running for.”

“It’ll be over quickly,” Callum promised. “If the Circle don’t give us what we’re looking for, we leave.”

“Well, I know how persuasive you can be,” Zevran said. “Plus you are a Grey Warden now – beholden to no authority. What have you got to fear from them?”

Callum didn’t answer, but merely watched the top of the tower until it sank below the depths of the fog once more.

 

 

It was pandemonium in the entrance hall when the party arrived – short a handful of members who had stayed behind on the shore to watch the cart with the Feddics. Templars were racing around the place, their perpetually-gleaming armour now dented and stained. There were numerous voice raised in shouts, none louder than one in particular – eternally familiar to Callum. The knight-commander stood in the centre of the hall, firing out orders to his subordinates, the sweat visibly gleaming on his brow even from this distance.

“...and I want two men stationed within sight of the doors at all times!” he was saying, imperious tone cutting through the din in the hall. “Do not open the doors without my express consent. Is that clear?”

“Yes, ser,” another templar responded, saluting and turning away.

Greagoir raised a hand to his forehead, rubbing it wearily. “Now we wait,” he muttered, “and pray.” He blinked as he registered the group of people – quite plainly not part of the Templar Order – standing before him. “You...who are you people? And what are you doing here at a time like this?”

“We’re Grey Wardens,” Callum said, keeping his visor down over his face. He liked to think that it made him look and sound more intimidating – or maybe it was really just to hide his face from the templar. “We’ve come to seek aid from the Circle of Magi in combating the Blight.”

“Maker’s breath,” the knight-commander grumbled. “The Wardens always did have a remarkable sense of timing.”

“What’s going on here?” Alistair asked him. “Has something happened to the Circle? Why is the door to the tower barred?”

Callum turned his head to look at the door Alistair had mentioned – the one that separated the entrance hall from the rest of the tower. It had never been closed in all the years Callum had spent here – not even when one of the other apprentices had started an out-of-control fire that had scorched the hallways black before eventually being extinguished. But now, it was sealed shut, with two templars standing guard at either side. His stomach dropped, and his fingers curled into a fist.

“Since you are of the Wardens,” Greagoir said, “I believe you have the right to know. Therefore, I shall speak plainly. The tower is no longer under our control. Abominations and demons stalk the tower’s halls.” He shook his head, grimacing. “We were too complacent. Only a month ago, we had a maleficar escape the tower right under our noses. And now, this.”

Callum ground his teeth beneath his helmet, but remained silent.

“How did this happen?” Alistair asked, fear gripping his voice as he spoke. “Surely, your first-enchanter wouldn’t have allowed this?”

“First-Enchanter Irving is missing,” Greagoir told them. “Likely still trapped somewhere in the tower. We searched, but found only demons – hunting templars and mages alike. I realised we could not defeat them, and ordered my men to retreat.”

“You mean to tell me,” Callum growled, “that when faced with performing your sole, Maker-given duty as knight-commander, you instead called a retreat and left your charges to die? That’s pathetic, even for you, Greagoir.”

The knight-commander’s head snapped over towards him, eyes narrowing. “How...?” He visibly composed himself. “You may be a Grey Warden, ser, but I do not appreciate being spoken to in that manner. What would you know of our duty? It is the responsibility of the templars to defend the innocent people of Thedas from the threat of demons and maleficarum.”

“And what about all those you abandoned inside the tower?” Callum demanded, anxiety giving way to white-hot anger as he stepped forward. Other templars were beginning to take notice of them now, stopping what they were doing to pay attention to the commotion in the centre of the hall. Callum didn’t care – his own rage kept him focused. “Are they not ‘innocent people’ to you?! Their crime, I suppose, was being born a mage?!”

“We cannot afford to take any chances!” the knight-commander insisted, growing angry in turn. “The risk of allowing an abomination to escape the tower could prove disastrous. I regret the loss of the mages in the tower who haven’t turned to blood magic, but even so-”

Fuck you, Greagoir!” Callum roared, pulling up his visor at last to direct his furious glare at the knight-commander. “If you gave a single shit about any of those people in there, you would have done your best to save them! But you didn’t. You ran away, hoping the problem would fix itself!”

Greagoir’s lips peeled away in a snarl. “You. I should’ve known I hadn’t seen the last of you, Amell.”

“That’s right. I’m back. And it looks like I’m going to have to clean up your mess.”

“It was the folly of you mages that destroyed the Circle.”

“It’s not destroyed yet,” Callum said. “Not so long as a single mage is left alive and unpossessed within these walls.”

But Greagoir shook his head. “You don’t understand, as ever. I know you think little of me, boy, but I am not so foolish as to think that this problem could ‘fix itself’, as you so put it.”

Callum flinched. “Wait...”

“I have sent word to Denerim,” the knight-commander announced, “calling for reinforcements and the Right of Annulment.”

Callum lunged forward, drawing his sword from its sheath on his back as he went. He slammed into Gregoir shoulder-first, magic fuelling his strength shoving him up against the pillar behind him. He held the edge of his greatsword up to the knight-commander’s throat, their faces less than a foot apart. Through the noise of his own blood pounding in his ears, Callum heard the sound of numerous other blades being removed from their scabbards.

“I ought to kill you right now, Greagoir,” Callum hissed. “You utterly useless swine of a man.”

“My men will cut you down, boy,” Greagoir spat. “You may have grown strong since leaving this place, but you’re still no match for us templars. Nor for a tower full of demons. You could never save this Circle.”

“No?” Callum relinquished his hold on the older man, letting him fall to his knees. “Watch me.”

Callum took a step back, turning to face the hall at large. “My name is Callum Amell!” he called out, the eyes of over a dozen templars watching him, weapons drawn. “I am a Grey Warden, formerly of the Ferelden Circle of Magi. Since you templars are so fucking incompetent, I’ve decided to your job for you. I will enter the tower and rescue any mages who are willing. I will find what has become of the first-enchanter, and I will deal with those who are responsible for this chaos. You may save your thanks for when I return.”

“Cal, wait!”

He turned his gaze on Alistair, who shifted uncomfortably on his feet.

“I know you don’t want to hear this, but the knight-commander may have a point. The mages within the tower are probably already dead. The abominations need to be dealt with, no matter what. It...might be better to wait for those reinforcements to arrive.”

Callum stayed silent for a full five seconds, glaring daggers at his fellow Warden. When he finally spoke, it was in a small, vicious voice.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. Once a templar, always a templar.”

Alistair jerked back as though punched. “I...I’m just saying-”

“Save it,” Callum commanded, holding up a hand for silence. “If you want to stay here and do nothing, feel free.” He swept his gaze over the other two who had come with them across the lake – Leliana and Zevran. “If either of you want to actually help people today, follow me.”

Despite their orders, none of the templars attempted to stop Callum as he strode towards the great door. Footsteps followed in his wake, but Callum didn’t turn to determine which of his companions were coming along. The doors had been opened for him, which was mildly surprising. He said nothing as he stepped through, but came to a halt once he’d passed over the threshold. Someone stepped past him – Leliana. Another – Zevran. Heavy footsteps came from behind him, passing him by as Alistair stepped through as well. Then there was only the sound of the great door scraping against the floor, followed by a resounding boom as it was shut once again. The moment the door was closed, Callum slumped against it, shutting his eyes against the wave of emotion that threatened to spill out.

“Cal...” Alistair was talking, as usual. “I shouldn’t...I wasn’t trying to...” He fell silent for a moment. “I’m sorry.”

Callum didn’t respond. After another few moments, Zevran spoke up.

“May I ask something? What, exactly, is the Right of Annulment?”

“It’s supposedly the last resort for the templars in an emergency,” Callum replied, his voice hardly more than a croak. “If the knight-commander – in this case, that charming fellow we met outside – deems the Circle to be beyond saving, he can call for the Right of Annulment to be carried out. Soldiers and templars alike will invade the tower, slaughtering every last mage inside. There are no questions, no hesitations, no mercy. It is mass murder, sanctioned by the Divine herself.”

“The Right has been invoked over a dozen times since it was first granted,” Leliana said. “Possibly more than that, even. I did not ever think I would see...” She shook herself. “Callum is right. We cannot abandon these people to their fate.”

Zevran nodded. “I am with you. Just point me at whichever ones are the abominations.”

Callum stood up, pushing himself away from the door, steeling himself for whatever they might face next. “Then let’s go.”

The four of them set off down the corridor. They were less than ten steps away from the door when they came across the first corpse.

Chapter Text

Morrigan, Sten, Barkspawn, Bodahn, and Sandal were awaiting them near the dock when they returned back from across the lake. There were introductions made to their newest companion – Wynne – but Callum was scarcely paying attention to any of it. They set off at once, heading back down the length of Lake Calenhad’s shore. Callum was grateful that neither Morrigan nor Sten were the type to be bursting with questions about what had happened in their absence. He doubted he would have had the strength or the inclination to answer.

They made camp along the highway early that evening – long before the sun had fully set. Those who had been in the Circle were exhausted, even though they had spent a considerable amount of their time in the tower fast asleep. Despite that – despite everything – Wynne clearly felt as though a lecture was necessary. She approached Callum as he huddled by the campfire, the depths of which he had been staring numbly into for quite some time.

“I wish to speak with you,” she said.

“Can it wait?” he asked.

Even though he wasn’t looking at her, he could imagine the way her lips pursed. “I would prefer to speak now, if that’s alright?”

It wasn’t, but Callum had the impression that any further protesting on his part would only either encourage or incense her further. He instead stayed silent, as Wynne began.

“It concerns some of the events that took place in the tower. In all the chaos and confusion, I decided it was best if I did not object. You are a Grey Warden, after all, and you’ve proven to be a rather capable leader.” She paused. “But that does not mean you are except from criticism.”

Callum rolled his eyes, still keeping his back to the old woman.

“I cannot fathom as to why you allowed that Desire demon to escape with its templar thrall. That poor man had been ensorcelled!”

Callum had known the templar well – a snide, malicious oaf who had pushed around more than his fair share of mages and apprentices. He’d always just barely toed the line, never once earning a reprimand from his superiors, but the mages in the tower had known well to steer clear whenever he showed his face. Now, he would either live out the decades peacefully in a new home with his loving ‘wife’, or the demon would suck him dry and return to the Fade. Either way, he would never harm another mage again.

“And what’s more,” Wynne continued on, “you let a maleficar walk free. That woman you spared, one of Uldred’s followers, remains in the Circle. If she does not flee to wreak havoc outside the tower once the opportunity presents itself, she will likely bide her time there before inevitably unleashing a new wave of horrors, just as her master did before her. That woman will be the undoing of-”

“Saoirse,” Callum said.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Her name is Saoirse.” Callum stood, turning around to face the senior enchanter for the first time. “Did you even know that?”

Wynne frowned at him. “Of...of course I know her name.”

“Then why keep calling her ‘that woman’?”

“I...I don’t see why it should matter that-”

“Of course you don’t,” Callum interjected. “She’s not even a person to you anymore, is she? Just another filthy blood mage. She surrendered to us – in case you forgot that, too. She has the same right to safety and freedom as any mage.”

“You would defend her?” Wynne accused. “After her actions helped bring ruin to the Circle of Magi?”

“That was Uldred’s doing,” Callum reminded her. “The people who followed him believed he would free them from the Circle – from the templars and the Chantry.”

“And you agree with him?”

“Uldred wasn’t wrong to rebel. I used to look up to him, you know. I just wish he hadn’t succumbed to demons and turned on his own people.”

“You...” Wynne shook her head, jaw now firmly set. “I am disappointed in you, Callum. All those years of teaching and training seemed to have evaporated once you set foot outside the tower. Was everything Irving and I taught you for nothing? You used to be such a promising student...albeit a touch too quick to bite back at those who angered you.”

“You’d never do that,” Callum said, his voice dripping with bitterness. “You’d happily play the good little mage, content to live out your years wasting away inside the tower, until your beloved templars inevitably drive a sword through your gut.”

“I would never give them reason to.”

“And they wouldn’t need one,” Callum shot back. “Did you forget that I just saved the Circle from the Right of Annulment? You, Petra, Kinnon, Keili – all of you would have been slaughtered where you stood, just for the crime of being born a mage.”

“I know very well what was at stake, young man.”

“Then why all these questions?” he demanded. “You say you want to ‘criticise’, but I’m hearing no solutions from you at all! What would you have done differently?”

Wynne paused for a moment, holding Callum’s gaze firmly. When she spoke, it was in an even voice. “The knight-commander said that you had threatened him before you forced your way into the tower. Were I in your position, I would have seen no need to antagonise the templars.”

Of course she wouldn’t have. She was just like Irving. Don’t give them anything to hate you for. Never mind that, without Callum’s help, she and her fellow mages would have been slain by their supposed ‘guardians’.

Greagoir had kept his word, at least: he’d reopened the door to Callum, his companions, and the small army of mages they had rescued within the tower, once the first enchanter had made himself known to the templars. The knight-commander had glared daggers at him the entire time, explaining to Irving with barely-restrained malice at how the ‘heroic’ Grey Warden had attacked him in full view of his men. Callum had watched as Greagoir’s face had turned purple when Irving declared Callum the saviour of the Circle, and promised that the mages would aid him in his battle against the Blight. Wynne had scowled at Callum, too – much like she was doing now.

“It’s incredible, how you ignore the lessons taught to you in the Circle. You have shied away from the truth of the world.”

“Oh, I know far more of the ‘truth of the world’ than you, Wynne!” Callum snapped. “I know now that templars are cowards and monsters, constantly waiting for their chance to murder the mages they supposedly protect. I know now that blood magic does not automatically make someone evil, no matter what the Chantry says.” He folded his arms and glared at her. “And I know now that you and your ilk are nothing more than bootlickers, taking in what the Chantry tells you and mindlessly spewing it back out to anyone who’ll listen.”

Wynne kneaded her forehead and sighed wearily. “I had hoped that your time with the Grey Wardens would mellow you. But you are as much of a child now as you were when you left the Circle behind.” She turned her back on him, beginning to walk away. “I will stay with you, for the sake of Ferelden, to fight the darkspawn. But I believe we have little more to say to one another.”

“Glad we’re in agreement,” he called to her. She didn’t glance back at him, heading straight for her tent and closing the flap behind her. Seething, Callum turned back to face the fire, which flickered and flared in response to his anger. Deciding that, in the interest of safety, it would be better to fume in the solitude of his own tent, Callum stalked away from the campfire.

 

 

His tent was quiet, at least. Maker knew he needed the time to himself, to process everything that had happened in the tower. He’d lost count of the number of corpses they’d found – most too mangled or charred to even be recognisable. Perhaps that was for the best: the ones he had recognised were enough to make a lump lodge itself in his throat. He thought of the young woman with the Chantry sunburst symbol emblazoned upon her forehead, dull eyes staring up at the ceiling, her neck twisted the wrong way around. She’d been running for the door when she’d been killed – she’d wanted to get away, to save herself. She hadn’t wanted to die; it wasn’t true what they said about the Tranquil.

He thought of Niall, without whom the Litany of Adralla could never have been recovered. Callum had hardly ever spoken to the young man before they’d met in the Fade: the shy Isolationist had tended to live up to the ideals of his fraternity. The most he had shared with Callum were a few stolen kisses in a secluded corner of the library a handful of years ago, too quick and too secretive to leave room for conversation. But Niall had given his life in the fight to save the Circle – him and too many others. He was worthy of being remembered. They all were.

But most of all, he thought of the abomination they had cornered on the second floor – which had grinned with far too many teeth as it had seen Callum approaching. Its face had shifted, piecing itself back together like a jigsaw, forming the smiling face of Feyren Surana. It had whispered things to him – terrible, awful words of poison and hate – even as he’d driven his greatsword into its chest. Callum had been face-to-face with the monster that had been Feyren as it screamed at him, agony tearing through it, its features twisting back into the unrecognisable, demonic visage. An arrow from Leliana had struck it directly in the forehead, passing over the top of Callum’s head, and the creature had fallen at last.

What had happened in the tower had been horrible enough, but the events of the Fade were like a half-remembered nightmare: what few images his mind had retained were too filled with dread for him to want to remember the rest. Nothing could have prepared him for all that had happened today. Not the Harrowing, not the Joining – nothing.

But he’d made it through, hadn’t he? He was still in one piece, relatively speaking. And they’d gained a powerful ally in Wynne: no matter how severely her views differed from Callum’s, he couldn’t deny that her mastery of creation magic and spirit healing was second to none. Only Anders had come close, and he had apparently used the chaos of Jowan’s flight to escape the Circle again himself. Callum was thankful for that much, at least. He hoped Anders had enough coin and sense to get as far away from the tower and the Blight as possible.

His eyes were drawn to his satchel, which lay on his tent floor, half-open. There was a small book – a journal – poking out. Callum had found it in the tower, lying open and abandoned atop the desk of the first-enchanter. He hadn’t had time to peruse it fully, what with the task at hand, but had hurriedly shoved it into his bag once he’d realised what was written in it. Now that he was alone, at last, what better time would there be to read it?

Callum reached for the journal and took it out of the bag, his arm snaking around the mabari snoozing by his side. Barkspawn didn’t even budge as Callum flipped open the book on a random page, eyes poring over the surprisingly-untidy scrawl of the first-enchanter.

I followed another apprentice through supposed secret manoeuvres today, and exposed her tendency towards blood magic. The environment of the tower is such that certain modes of thought are encouraged, both for good and ill. The students think we toy with them. The truth is far more intricate and directed. Deviant traits must be exposed early, or the whole of the Circle suffers.

Uldred has been very helpful in identifying the markers to look for. His skills at misdirection are admirable. I daresay that the apprentices would be shocked at his ability to manipulate them. I must organize a retreat such that the other enchanters can benefit from his skills.

Callum felt sick to his stomach. Tears sprang unbidden to his eyes as he lowered his head to the page.

“Oh, Jowan,” he whispered, choking back the beginnings of a sob. He had to read the rest of this journal. What other crimes had Irving committed with the power at his disposal? But just then, a shadow appeared on the tent canvas as someone outside drew close. The silhouette resolved itself into a familiar, broad-shouldered figure – not one that Callum had been hoping to see.

“Cal...?” Alistair called to him through the tent flap.

“What do you want?” the mage grumbled in reply, tossing Irving’s journal back into his satchel.

“I was...hoping to apologise.” Alistair hesitated. “If you’d rather I leave you alone for now...that’s alright, too.”

Callum wanted to shout at him, to scream and tell him to go away. Instead, he groaned, and said, “Fine. Come in.”

Alistair stepped inside the tent, closing the flap behind him. He looked shamefacedly at his fellow Warden, wrapped up in his bedroll with his faithful mabari by his side.

“I suppose the fact that Barkspawn hasn’t tried to maul me yet is a good sign?” He smiled weakly.

“It’s early days, yet,” Callum said, clapping the dog on his hindquarters. The mabari gave an obedient bark in confirmation.

Alistair’s smile drained as he swallowed nervously. “Right. Well...I suppose I’d better come out with it, so.” His eyes fluttered shut. “I’m sorry, Cal. I promised you, back at Ostagar, that I’d be more respectful of mages. But when it came down to it, back in the tower, I...well, you know what happened. I shouldn’t have said what I said. I let you down.” His gaze slunk down towards his boots, shying away from Callum’s gaze.

“You did,” Callum replied, after a moment’s pause. He didn’t interject any further, and Alistair quickly got the hint to continue.

“Yes, well, I’m sorry. I should’ve known better. What you said – “Once a templar, always a templar”? It stung. It shouldn’t have taken you saying that to make me realise what a...what a fool I was being.” He rubbed one eye as though fighting exhaustion. “I’ll understand if you hate me. But I stand by what I said in Ostagar: ‘We may not always have to get along, but we can’t afford to clash with the Blight brewing.’”

“I don’t hate you, Alistair,” Callum said. “I told you that before, remember? I just...with everything that happened in the Circle...” He fought to speak through that painful lump in his throat as it returned. “I’m not angry with you. I’m angry with Greagoir, with Cullen, with all the templars – not to mention Uldred and Irving.”

“And Wynne?”

Callum sighed. “And Wynne, yes. But with you...I’m just disappointed.”

“Oh no,” Alistair groaned. “Now who’s acting like a Chantry mother?”

“Fair point,” Callum said. “Listen, I don’t expect you to side with me on every argument, Al. I need people like you to hold me back whenever I get...too emotional.” A memory flashed in his mind’s eye of himself roaring at Alistair and Leliana after a battle in the tower, and he grimaced. “Duncan told me a Grey Warden should be ruthless to their enemies and compassionate to their friends. I haven’t exactly been following his advice.”

“Well, you’re halfway there,” Alistair pointed out, with a gentle smile. “So long as you count elderly women among your enemies.”

Callum chuckled, despite himself. “Trust me – she isn’t as old as she looks. And certainly not as old as she pretends.” Callum reached out to stroke Barkspawn’s neck. “The point is, I can’t save Ferelden alone. I couldn’t even have saved the Circle on my own. I’m sorry I lost my temper with you in the tower.”

“I think you had every right to be angry with me.”

“If you’d told me that back then, I’d have agreed with you completely.” Callum winded his fingers through the mabari’s fur. “Now...I’m not so sure. Things got out of hand. I’ll try not to let that happen again.”

Alistair shook his head, chortling to himself. “No, no – I’m apologising to you! You can’t just turn this around and tell me you’re sorry.”

“That’s what adulthood means sometimes, Al.”

“Adulthood,” Alistair scoffed. “What would either of us know about that, hmm? You’ve got to be even younger than I am, and I’m only twenty years old!”

“So am I,” Callum retorted. “I won’t be twenty-one until Cloudreach.”

“Well, I was born in Wintermarch,” Alistair said, feigning pomposity by puffing out his chest. “So that makes you the youngest.”

“In terms of age, perhaps. In terms of maturity, well...” Callum shrugged, bursting into laughter at the grumpy look Alistair shot him.

“Alright, alright.” Alistair smiled sheepishly at him. “I’ve got you laughing, at least, so I know everything will be fine.” He hesitated. “Won’t it?”

Callum’s laughter gradually died away. “We’ll see. But I do appreciate you coming to apologise like this.”

Alistair shuffled awkwardly on his feet. “Right. Well, I think I’ll head to bed, now. Besides, I think Zevran wanted to see you. Don’t let him keep you up too late, now. The rest of us could do with a full night’s sleep.”

“We’ll be extra quiet,” Callum reassured him with a wink, prompting the other Warden to shiver.

“Ugh. He’s a bad influence on you.”

Alistair departed the tent. The flap had scarcely swung shut before Zevran ducked inside.

“I thought he’d never leave,” the Antivan joked, grinning at Callum as though nothing were amiss. “He wasn’t bothering you again, was he?”

“No, Zev, he wasn’t. Don’t worry.”

Zevran’s smile faded as he caught the note in Callum’s voice. “Oh. Sorry, I had hoped you would be a bit more...lively, now that we have left the tower behind.”

Callum blew air out through his nose. “I’m alright,” he lied. “I’m just...worn out.”

“Is there anything I can do to help? Do you want me to stay?”

“Please do,” Callum said. I like it when you’re with me, he wanted to add. Instead, he said, “You could try fucking me senseless. That’d cheer me up.”

Zevran’s grin perked right up again, and he crawled over to Callum’s bedroll. Barkspawn got the hint, and quickly got up and left the tent. Once he was gone, Zevran pressed his lips against Callum’s firmly, the mage grunting against his mouth, tension seeping from his body.

“Did you bring the oil?” Callum asked, tugging on Zevran clothes in an effort to help remove them. Soon, his chest had been bared, and Callum greedily ran his hands over the muscled physique – realising just how much he needed this kind of intimacy after the day he’d just had. Zevran pulled away for a moment, a frown creasing his forehead.

“Ah...no,” he replied, grimacing. “I believe I may have left the bottle in my own tent. I can go and retrieve it...?” He made to get up, only for Callum to pull him back down into his embrace.

“Don’t bother,” he said. “We won’t need it.”

“Oh?” Zevran quirked an eyebrow at him. “Have you something else in mind, my dear Warden?”

“I may have a few tricks up my sleeve,” he murmured, kissing Zevran quickly, only for it to become more heated as their mouths opened and they bodies entwined. Zevran wriggled out of his breeches before joining Callum under the bedroll. Even the feel of Zevran’s cock pressing against his body through his smallclothes was enough to make Callum moan wantonly into the other man’s mouth. Zevran chuckled quietly as he expertly removed both his own underclothes and Callum’s, leaving the pair of them naked. Zevran’s body was warm, even more so in the space under the blanket, and Callum sighed blissfully as the heat spread through him, warming his bones better than any fire. Zevran’s mouth pressed against his throat, then his collarbone, then his nipple – working its way down his body. Zevran’s head vanished under the blanket, blond hair and pointed ears disappearing into the darkness, and Callum chuckled as he moved his hands behind his head and allowed the Antivan to work his own, personal brand of magic. Callum’s hips bucked involuntarily as he felt the now-familiar sensation of Zevran’s lips sliding down over the head of his cock, deliciously warm and wet. Callum groaned, a smile springing to his mouth – a smile that dimmed as Zevran promptly removed his mouth from his cock. Callum’s mouth dropped open as he felt Zevran’s tongue sliding past his balls, dipping down into the cleft between his buttocks. A painfully loud, heated gasp came out of him as Zevran’s tongue drew a circle around his hole, making his skin tingle as though it were on fire.

“Ahhh-!”

Immediately, the sensation stopped. Zevran’s voice reached Callum’s ears, muffled by the blanket between them.

“Are you alright?”

“Y-Yes!” Callum practically squeaked. “Just...nobody’s ever done, ah, that to me before.”

Sex within the Circle walls had been nothing like sex with Zevran. Never before had Callum been so thoroughly pleasured – Zevran could make even kissing feel like an artform. He’d never held someone close after sex, cuddling them against his body: always they’d been too concerned about the templars potentially discovering their temporary haven to waste any time. In the Circle, one discovered what felt good through experimentation, and then stuck with that. But Zevran was showing him just how many different ways his body could be stimulated. Callum felt like he still had a lot to learn.

He heard Zevran laugh. “Do you like it?”

“Y-Yes,” Callum choked. “Please, ah, keep going.”

Zevran did as he was told without delay, and soon Callum’s whole body felt coiled like a spring as the Antivan’s tongue stimulated his hole. He was breathing heavily, as though on the verge of climax already, even though he knew he was nowhere close. He felt Zevran’s hands on his buttocks, pulling them apart to grant him further access and moaned fervently at the sensation.

“Ahhhh, yes!” Callum was dimly aware that he was breaking the promise he’d made to Alistair, but there was little he could do to stop the noises he was making. “Ohhh! Ohhhhhh!”

Maddeningly, Zevran seemed to only be encouraged by the sounds coming from the Warden, as he redoubled his efforts, tongue moving faster and more determinedly than before. Callum’s back arched as he cried out, eyes wide in their sockets.

“Fuck!” he hissed. “Ohh, fuck me, Zev!”

The blanket shifted, cool air passing over Callum’s naked body as Zevran pushed it aside. His head popped up from between Callum’s legs, smiling playfully at him.

“You want me to fuck you now?”

“I need you to fuck me now!” Callum responded feverishly.

Zevran barked a laugh. “Very well. Who am I to turn down such a request? However, there is the problem of...”

Callum’s hand stretched down towards him, Zevran grasping hold of it. Callum focused for a brief moment, calling to the Fade, and immediately felt his hand become coated with grease. “Here. Use as much as you can.”

Zevran’s eyes were wide as the grease passed to his own hands, running between his fingers like the smoothest oil. “Ohoho! I should have known that spell had other uses.”

“It’s not just for making would-be assassins slip and fall,” Callum agreed, before gasping as he felt a warm, grease-covered finger press against his hole.

“I should have sex with mages more often,” Zevran murmured, sliding his finger in.

Whatever witty retort Callum had been preparing died on his lips as Zevran’s finger worked its way inside him. He tried to relax and stay as still as possible, only for Zevran to crook his finger, sending spasms of pleasure through Callum’s body.

“Oh, please, please, please,” he was stammering through the fog in his brain. “Please, Zev!”

It took another few minutes of Zevran working him loose with his fingers before he penetrated him with his cock, but those scant minutes felt to Callum like an entire Age. He moaned raggedly as Zevran sank into him, the former Crow groaning in turn and trembling slightly as shivers of ecstasy coursed through him.

“Fuck, Callum,” he hissed, eyes raking over the Warden’s body. “You feel amazing.”

Zevran began fucking him, slowly at first as Callum’s hole loosened up around his girth, gradually picking up speed. It had hurt, before – Zevran penetrating him like this. Even now, there was still a sting as he stretched Callum open, but the pain was quickly swamped by overwhelming pleasure. Callum threw his head back and moaned intently as Zevran’s hips began slamming into his buttocks over and over, the unmistakable clapping sound of flesh against flesh surely loud enough to be heard from outside the tent. Callum thought he must have sounded ridiculous to anyone eavesdropping, such were the half-moan, half-screams that he was making as Zevran pounded him. Zevran was being far from quiet himself, clearly too caught up in the moment to care in the slightest who would overhear their rutting.

“Oh, yes!” he groaned, squeezing Callum’s thighs and pulling the mage’s body against him, grinning when he was rewarded with an impassioned yelp. Zevran’s cock was hitting some part of his body, deep inside, that made Callum feel so good that he thought he was going to pass out. Callum was seeing stars, his whole body surging, begging for release.

“I-I’m close, Zev!”

Zevran nodded, not altering his tempo in the slightest as he let go of one of Callum’s legs and took hold of his cock. Even the touch of Zevran’s hand on him was enough to set him off, his moans becoming shouts as the Antivan began stroking him. His orgasm hit him like a bolt of lightning, instantly silencing his cries. Callum’s whole body shuddered as he came – hot, thick spurts hitting his abdomen. All at once, it was as though he’d been granted speech once more, and he let out a heated shout. He writhed against the bedroll beneath him, hips lifting upwards, throat aching from all the shouting. He sank back down as Zevran slid out of him, letting go of his thighs at last. He took hold of his own cock, tugging at himself with vigour, eyes firmly locked on Callum. With a sharp moan from the Antivan, Callum felt another splash of heat on his front. Zevran’s groan was low and blissful, rumbling deep within his throat. Callum was still quivering as the last echoes of his own climax died away, panting as though he had just run for miles. It took some time for Zevran’s face to fully come into focus for him, but when it did, he was smiling warmly at him – without a trace of mirth.

“You are incredible,” he said. “Do you know that?”

Verbal replies were utterly beyond Callum at the moment, and the attempt that he made came out as an incoherent groan. At that, the Antivan did chuckle, shifting his position to lean over Callum again, planting a soft kiss on his lips.

When he was finally able to speak again, the first thing Callum said was, “Again?”

Zevran grinned at him, cupping his cheek with one hand as he suppressed a giggle. “So soon?”

Callum nodded shakily. “Maybe not...exactly what we just did. But I could certainly go for another round.”

Zevran kissed him on the cheek. “Sure,” he said, “why not?”

It must have been another hour or more before they finally had worn themselves out: even a Grey Warden’s stamina had its limits. The two of them collapsed against the bedroll, panting with exhaustion. Callum felt completely boneless – incapable of doing anything more except falling asleep. In his last few moments of consciousness, He turned his head slightly to face Zevran, who was lying behind him.

“Zev...?” he mumbled.

“Mmm?”

“I...you...” He swallowed. “You’re...pretty great.”

Zevran choked a laugh. “So I have been told.”

“You’re a...good friend.” Callum’s eyes felt as heavy as boulders now, dragging him firmly off to sleep. “Thanks for...not killing me.”

If Zevran had replied, Callum hadn’t heard it. The Fade was calling to him, sweet like a song, and he was helpless to obey.

Chapter Text

Even travelling along the Imperial Highway as it encircled Lake Calenhad, it took nearly a week to reach Redcliffe after leaving the Circle. The great castle that overlooked the village had been visible from some distance away, across the lake, but they still had a long way to go before they reached it. Briefly, the party had considered paying a ferryman to take them across and shorten their journey considerably, but that would have meant leaving Bodahn and Sandal behind.

“It’s not a problem,” the older dwarf had said with his usual blitheness. “My boy and I can follow the highway while you take the boat. Won’t be two days behind you, no ser!”

“We can’t afford to travel on without you,” Callum had explained as patiently as he could. “We could run into trouble in Redcliffe and be caught without any of our supplies.”

Bodahn had stroked his beard and frowned. “Hmm...perhaps you have a point, my dear chum. Looks like we’re sticking together, then, eh?”

“Hooray!” Sandal had cheered, clapping his hands together like a small child.

“Well, if my boy’s alright with it, then what right have I to say otherwise?” Bodahn had smiled fondly at the younger dwarf, rubbing his head with a chortle.

At long last, the day arrived when they would reach the village. Callum had noticed Alistair walking out of pace with the group that morning, trailing slightly behind. He’d slowed down a bit, letting the other Warden catch up.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

Alistair grimaced. “That obvious, is it?”

“You’re not exactly a master of subtlety,” Callum told him.

“Oh, and you are?”

“I didn’t say that,” Callum said with a shrug. “But you’d better get it off your chest before we reach Redcliffe.”

Alistair sighed. “Yes, yes, I know. I’ve...well, I’ve been putting it off for long enough.”

“This isn’t another Grey Warden secret, is it?” Callum asked apprehensively. “Let me guess – two months after the Joining, my eyes will shrivel up and turn into insects and burrow through my skull?”

“Maker, I hope not!” Alistair pretended to retch. “Well, it didn’t happen to me, anyway, but I can’t vouch for you.”

“Brilliant.”

“Anyway, no – it’s not about the Wardens this time. It’s about me.”

Callum remained silent, allowing Alistair to take his time with whatever he was about to say.

“You know already that Arl Eamon is the man who raised me, right? That my mother was a serving girl at the castle and he took me in?” At Callum’s nod, Alistair carried on. “The reason he did that was because...” He took a deep breath. “Well, because my father was King Maric. Which made Cailan my half-brother, I suppose.”

Callum blinked. “Oh.”

“Indeed,” Alistair muttered. “Er...that’s all.”

“That’s all?” Callum raised an eyebrow at him.

Alistair scratched the back of his neck uncomfortably. “Yep.”

“I see...”

After a few moments of awkward silence, Alistair spoke up again. “You know, I was expecting a bigger reaction, to be honest. I thought you’d be shocked upon learning the truth of my heritage, or angry at me for having kept it a secret for so long.”

“Well, it’s not like I’ve told you every detail of my past,” Callum pointed out. “I won’t hold it against you for keeping secrets.” He paused. “Why, do you want me to have a big, melodramatic response? Give me a few moments and I’m sure I could cook something up...”

“No, no.” Alistair waved both hands hurriedly. “This is fine, trust me. It all never really meant anything to me, either, I suppose. I could have been seen as a threat to Cailan’s rule, and so they kept me secret. I’ve never talked about it to anyone.”

“Never?”

Alistair shook his head. “Everyone who knew either resented me for it, or they coddled me. Even Duncan kept me out of the fighting because of it.” He swallowed anxiously. “...I didn’t want you to know as long as possible. I’m sorry.”

“Please don’t apologise. I understand.”

“You...do?”

“What difference does it make to me if your father was a king?” Callum shrugged. “Both my parents were nobles, and that hardly matters, either.”

Alistair’s head snapped over to look at his fellow Warden. “Hold on...what? You’re a noble? Why didn’t you ever...?”

Callum gave him a wry look, and Alistair pointedly looked away.

“Right, right,” Alistair grumbled. “Point taken. I remember that knight-commander using your family name – Amell, was it? But I didn’t recognise it. Eamon had dealings with nearly every noble family in Ferelden, and some from Orlais, but I never heard of any Amells.”

“We’re Marchers,” Callum told him. “From Kirkwall.”

“Is that where you were born?” Callum nodded, prompting Alistair to ask, “How did you end up in a Ferelden Circle?”

“It’s a long story...”

Alistair swept a hand towards Redcliffe Castle, still quite some distance away. “We’ve got plenty of time, yet.”

“...Very well.” Callum cast a glance towards the other party members, who each immediately set about pretending they hadn’t been listening in on their conversation. He addressed them in a louder voice. “It’s alright – you don’t have to worry about eavesdropping. Better you all hear this now than for me to have to tell the story all over again.

“The Amell family were one of the wealthiest and influential clans in Kirkwall – possibly in all of the Free Marches. Our lineage extends all the way back to the previous Blight, if not before that. The noble line lasted through years of crises – including when the Qunari invaded the city in the Storm Age, and overthrew its ruler. Even amongst Kirkwall’s aristocracy, the Amells were known for their opulence. My great-uncle Aristide, in particular, liked to throw these lavish balls in his mansion on almost any occasion you could imagine. I only had the chance to go to a handful of them, but they were like nothing I’ve ever seen in Ferelden. So much wine and food, noise and pomp...” Callum shook himself. “In a way, I was glad to leave that behind, at least.

“Anyway, at the beginning of the current Age, my great-uncle was expected by all to inherit the position of viscount from the man who had held it at the time – a fellow by the name of Perrin Threnhold. But from the start of the Dragon Age onwards, things started to go wrong for the Amell family. Aristide’s eldest child – Leandra, was her name – she eloped rather suddenly a few years before I was born. She married a Ferelden apostate, if you can believe it.”

Leliana giggled. “So reckless, and so romantic! She was the black sheep of the family, I presume?”

“Not at all,” Callum told her. “As far as I know, she was old Aristide’s favourite child before she ran off – the heir to his legacy. He didn’t speak of her much after that – none of them did. My mother told me the story at bedtime one evening, when I was too young to properly understand.”

“What was your mother like?” Zevran asked.

Callum felt a tiny smile form on his lips. “Her name was...Revka.” Flames, it had been years since he’d even said her name aloud. “Lady Revka Amell, daughter of Lord Fausten – Aristide’s brother. She was beautiful: the very image of a highborn lady. And she was a force to be reckoned with in the upper echelons of Kirkwall society, never involved with scandal or disgrace. Not until...well, anyway, she was perfect.”

Leliana smiled. “You loved her dearly, it seems.”

“What about your father?” Zevran quirked an eyebrow at him. “I can’t imagine you were born a bastard like your fellow Warden, here.”

“Hey!” Alistair snapped. “That’s ‘royal bastard’, to you!”

Zevran and Leliana both laughed, but Callum had grown quiet, which the Antivan was quick to notice.

“Did I touch on a tender subject?”

Callum shook his head. “Not exactly, no. I just...” He screwed his eyes shut for a moment, racking his brains. “It’s no use. I can’t remember his name.” Even his father’s face was so vague and indistinct in Callum’s mind. He’d barely thought about his father at all over the last decade, the man’s memory fading to almost nothing as Callum’s thoughts of his old home had waned.

“That’s alright.” Alistair clapped a hand on Callum’s shoulder, calling him out of his melancholia. “I don’t remember my mother’s name, either. Of course, I didn’t know her very well. In fact, I never even met her, since she died when I was still an infant, but I...” Alistair caught the meaningful look Leliana was aiming his way. “I’ll just be quiet, now.”

“The truth is,” Callum went on, “I didn’t really know my father very well, either. And he’s still alive, as far as I’m aware. He was from Starkhaven – far to the north of Kirkwall – and was apparently a businessman there. He was always coming and going, travelling back and forth between the two cities. There was always such a celebration whenever he’d come home; I remember how the three of us would stay up late by the fireplace, playing games until long after dark.”

“You were an only child, then?” Leliana asked.

“At first,” Callum replied. “I must have been about five when the twins were born. And then, a few years later, the other twins were born.”

“Two sets of twins?!” Alistair gaped. “That must have been a nightmare.”

“I’d happily have put up with four squalling siblings for the rest of my life if it meant never being taken to the Circle.”

Alistair fell silent.

“I mentioned my grandfather – Lord Fausten? He was a stubborn old man, and he had more than a few ideas on how a young nobleman should behave. He thought mother was coddling me, and when I was about seven or so, he decided to begin grooming me to inherit his legacy. He was determined that I would succeed where his son – my uncle, Damion – had failed, and become a proper aristocrat. There were lessons...countless bloody lessons: how to behave in public, how to dine, how to address foreign diplomats from all across Thedas, how to court ladies – and only ladies.” Callum sighed. “Even just thinking about it all makes me exhausted. Learning the fine details of noble etiquette made learning magical theory and history look like child’s play.”

Leliana let out a sound that was half-sigh, half chuckle.

“But worse was the scolding,” Callum continued. “The shouting, the belittling, the beatings...”

“From your grandfather?” Leliana’s mouth had fallen open in horror.

“Any time I got something wrong – and I always got something wrong – those were the punishments that awaited me. Grandfather was going to mould me into his ideal heir whether I wanted it or not.”

“But you were only a child!” Leliana interjected. “How could he have been so cruel to his own grandson?”

“I’m sure he would have done worse, had mother not intervened. So he had to get more creative with his punishments, after that. Nothing that could leave scars, nothing that could be overheard or gossiped about. But other than that, little changed.”

Even Morrigan’s expression had turned grim. Callum hadn’t even expected her to acknowledge the story he was telling at all, until she had glanced over her shoulder and said, “It would appear our childhoods were not so dissimilar after all, despite our differing circumstances.”

Flemeth had appeared rather kindly to Callum during the few times he had met her in person. But the templars, and Fausten before them, had taught Callum that even the cruellest of tormenters could hide behind a genial façade whenever they so chose.

“Anyway, my life was growing more and more stifling by the day, and it didn’t seem as though anything or anyone could help me. I could feel something building inside me – like anger, but stronger. More alien. It scared me, almost as much as my grandfather did. But, in the end, it helped me put a stop to him.”

“What happened?” Leliana asked, only for Alistair to interject.

“Let me guess – you hit your own grandfather with a telekinetic blast when he tried to hurt you again?”

Callum smiled wryly. “It’s a bit of a pattern, isn’t it? Yes, that’s exactly what happened. It was my first time ever using magic – I hadn’t even meant to do it. Fausten had been shouting at me again. He’d seen me holding hands with another noble’s son. I hadn’t seen what the problem was, and was trying to understand what I’d done wrong, but he only took that to mean I was talking back to him in defiance. He raised his hand and...well, you can guess what happened.”

Zevran winced, teeth nonetheless bared in a grin. “How did your grandfather react to you sending him flying across the room?”

“He was surprisingly calm,” Callum said. “He picked himself up off the floor, dusted himself off, and left.”

“Went straight to the templars, no doubt,” Morrigan muttered.

Callum nodded. “I never saw him again after that. The next morning, while me and Mother were taking a stroll through Hightown, they cornered us in the centre of the market. Told her to hand me over, or face the consequences. They...they stole me right out of her grip. The last I ever saw of my mother, she was on her knees in the middle of the street, sobbing wretchedly as they carried me away.”

Leliana’s hand was covering her mouth. “That’s awful.”

“And no different from the treatment many mages receive,” Callum informed her. “In fact, I was lucky. Some of my friends told me of how they were tied to a horse and made to keep pace as they were taken to the Circle. If they tripped and fell, or weren’t fast enough, they were dragged. Most of them still had the scars.”

“I’ve heard about that happening, too,” Alistair remarked. “Never saw it firsthand, thankfully.”

“So, I was clapped in irons in the middle of Hightown and marched through the city, before being ferried across to the Gallows.”

“The Gallows?” Alistair echoed in disbelief. “Maker’s breath. Is that what they call the Kirkwall Circle?”

“It’s a fortress built on an island in the middle of the harbour,” Callum explained. “Used to be the centre of the Imperium’s slave trade, once upon a time. Now, it’s home to a Circle of Magi, and the seat of power for the templars in the Free Marches. If you thought Kinloch Hold was grim, it’s nothing compared to the Gallows.”

Zevran suppressed a shiver. “How did you manage to escape that terrible fate?”

“I was told that the knight-commander had taken pity on me, and had me carted off to a more ‘lenient’ Circle. In truth, looking back on it all, I think he just knew that my position as a noble could put the templars in conflict with the aristocracy. Make no mistake: the templars are the ones who truly rule Kirkwall. The viscount may as well be a figurehead. The knight-commander knew how to handle the city’s politics, and he didn’t like the idea of me being used as a potential bargaining chip against him. Even though I had all my titles and claims removed when I was taken to the Circle, family ties can often be stronger than law. So, I was sent away to the most backwater kingdom in all of Thedas, where I could do no harm to him or anyone else.”

“I resent that description,” Alistair muttered, “but I see the point.”

“And that’s how you ended up in a Ferelden Circle?” Leliana frowned. “That is...quite the tale.”

“One for your repertoire,” Callum told her. “Once the Blight’s over, you can travel all over Thedas spinning yarns about the mage scion to a noble lineage who united all of Ferelden and slew the Archdemon, only to tragically die when the beast’s severed head fell on top of him.”

Zevran spluttered and started laughing, Alistair joining in. Leliana covered her mouth again, although Callum knew that it was because she was hiding a smile this time.

“If that actually happens,” Alistair said, once he could breathe easy again, “I’ll speak at the funeral. I’ll make your tragic demise sound a lot more dignified and grand than it had any right to be.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Callum said, resting a hand on Alistair’s shoulder. “Anyway, now you all know my longwinded story. While we’re here, who else would like to speak? Sten, any lost loves you want to tell us about?”

The Qunari grumbled in reply.

“I, for one,” Zevran piped up, “would love to hear the tale of how such a radiant Orlesian rose such as Leliana came to fester in a tiny Ferelden chantry?”

“That is another story,” Leliana assured him, “for another time.”

“Alright,” Zevran said with an exasperated shrug. “But if you keep avoiding these questions, I’ll have to start making guesses.”

“Then I hope you like guessing games,” she replied sweetly.

“So, I suppose that makes us both heirs to absolutely nothing,” Alistair remarked to Callum. “The bastard son of a dead king and a young noble who was made to forfeit his title for being born a mage. It’s like a terrible poem.”

“At least we’re both handsome,” Callum said, making Alistair’s mouth shut at once.

“You can say that again!” Zevran enthused. “So, my lovely Warden, what exactly does this make you? You’re no longer a noble, but what became of your family in Kirkwall?”

“I...don’t know,” Callum replied honestly. “I was allowed to write letters, but I never got any replies. I’m sure I would have been notified if either of my parents had...if anything had happened to them. And as for my siblings, hopefully they’re still with them. They’d all be teenagers by now. I doubt any of them even remember me. I barely remember them.”

Zevran’s smile faded as he caught sight of the expression on Callum’s face.

“I’m alright,” Callum tried to reassure him, but to no avail. The elf strode right up to Callum and planted a kiss on the corner of his mouth, standing on tiptoes to reach the Warden’s face.

“Do you feel better, now?” Zevran asked him, smirking pleasantly at him.

Callum absent-mindedly touched the skin where Zevran had kissed him. It was the first time Zevran had shown so much affection to him in front of the other party members.

“...Much,” he croaked in reply.

“I thought so,” Zevran crowed, turning his back on Callum and marching away again. Leliana was grinning like a fool, determinedly looking away when Callum shot her a disgruntled look.

“...And what about the rest of your family?” Alistair asked, clearly attempting to fill the silence that had blossomed in the wake of the kiss. “You said a relative of yours eloped with a Ferelden apostate? Maybe they came here?”

“Who knows?” Callum said, with a shrug. “I never met Leandra while she was still living in Kirkwall. I know her husband was some man named-”

He froze mid-step, one foot dangling above the ground. His stomach lurched violently, as though he had just retaken the Joining. His head swam, pinpricks of sweat dancing along his back.

“Cal...?”

“...named ‘Hawke’,” he said numbly. “An apostate from Ferelden named ‘Hawke’.”

The rest of the party hadn’t noticed Callum coming to a halt – aside from Alistair. The other Warden crossed over to him upon seeing Callum’s horrified expression.

“What’s wrong?! Oh, Maker, you’re not sick, are you?”

Callum swallowed, his tongue feeling thick and heavy in his mouth. “The family I met in Lothering.”

Alistair blinked. “Er...what about them?”

“Their family name was Hawke, as well. Just like that man Leandra married.”

“You don’t think...?”

“They were a family of apostates, Al. It’s not a common name, either.” Callum rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Flames, how could I have been so foolish?”

When he lowered his hands again, Barkspawn was sitting patiently in front of him. The mabari nuzzled Callum’s leg as though making sure his partner was alright. Callum bent down to pet him, stroking the fur around his ears.

“I bet you figured it out, didn’t you, boy?” He’d been wondering why the war dog had acted so friendly to a pair of strangers. “You could tell they were my family, couldn’t you?”

He barked, tongue lolling out, eyes sparkling.

Alistair shook his head in bemusement. “Maybe Morrigan’s right – I think Barkspawn is smarter than me.”

“Callum...?”

The three of them looked up to see the rest of the party, having come to a halt a short distance ahead, looking back at them. It was Leliana who had called.

“Is everything alright?” she asked.

“J-Just fine,” Callum called back, deciding to put the matter aside for the moment. “We’ll catch up in a moment.”

Andraste, I hope the Hawkes made it out of Lothering alive, Callum thought, as they resumed their march towards Redcliffe. For all I know, they could be the only family I have left.

Chapter Text

Redcliffe had been a disaster from the moment they had arrived: the village had been in total disarray due to relentless assaults from an army of undead. The party had spent the entire night battling with walking corpses that had emerged from the very castle they’d been planning to visit. Then they’d had to sneak like thieves into the same castle, only to find that the arl’s son had become an abomination, and was responsible for the undead horde. Thus, they’d been left in a precarious situation – Connor (or rather, the demon possessing him) needed to be dealt with. But if an alliance with Arl Eamon was necessary in order to combat the Blight and end the brewing civil war in Ferelden, they couldn’t afford to kill his only son. Jowan had suggested a blood magic ritual, but allowing the arl’s wife to die would earn them no favours with Eamon, either. Thus, their only real solution was to revisit the Circle and enlist their aid, which would take exponentially more time than any other option. Callum, Zevran and Barkspawn had set off from Redcliffe, with the Feddics in tow, just shy of a day after their arrival. Morrigan and Wynne had remained with Connor, in the hopes that they could keep him stable – or at least contained – long enough for the others to return with help. Alistair, Sten and Leliana were their protection in the event of another undead emergency.

Their journey back to the Circle would take at least another five days of travel, even with their haste. It was all Callum could do to avoid sprinting all the way there. He never thought he’d ever be so eager to return to the Circle of Magi, and the irony wasn’t lost on him. But he wasn’t going to murder an innocent boy for the sake of saving Redcliffe; he was a Grey Warden – he had the power to save them all, if he wanted. And, in truth, the opportunity to confront the first-enchanter over the journal he had found in his office was more tempting to Callum than anything a demon could ever offer to him. And Jowan...flames, he hadn’t even had the chance to speak properly with his old friend thanks to all the commotion. He’d been thrown back in his cell after the abomination’s hold over the castle had lessened. The two of them would have much to discuss after he returned to Redcliffe.

The biggest silver lining to this major detour in their journey was that Callum had the chance to spend more time alone in Zevran’s company, without any of their companions to overhear or interfere. Alistair hadn’t much liked the idea of Callum being alone with the former assassin, and had made Barkspawn promise to guard his partner with his life, much to Callum’s amusement. Zevran, on the other hand, seemed to think it was his duty to relieve the Warden of any additional stress he had gained during their time in Redcliffe. Sex with Zevran in the absence of any of their other party members in the camp could be longer and louder than ever before, and Callum was highly appreciative of his help.

Ohhhhhh!” Callum sucked in a deep breath, before Zevran’s hands drove another intense moan out of him. “Ohhhh, fuck!”

The Antivan laughed aloud as he straddled Callum’s waist, hands kneading his shoulder blades expertly. “Had I known you enjoyed massages this much, I would have offered one sooner.”

Callum’s reply came in the form of another deep groan as the pair of hands dug into another knot of tension in his spine. The only things he had on were his breeches, and he was lying face down in his bedroll, fighting the urge to bite his own pillow as he moaned again.

“You know,” Zevran said after another few moments, “when I offered to do this, I was intending it to be part of foreplay. But then I discovered you really, really need a backrub.”

“It comes with the job,” Callum mumbled, his voice muffled.

“So we aren’t doing anything naughty until I’ve worked out all the tension in your back.”

“This isn’t ‘naughty’?” A firm dig into his flesh from Zevran’s thumbs forced another moan from him. “Unggghhh...you see?”

“Well, I hope you don’t mind waiting. We could be here for a while, you know.”

Callum grumbled. “Honestly, Zev, I’m about two minutes away from just flipping over and fucking you myself, at this rate.”

Zevran hummed in amusement, leaning down to plant a swift kiss on the back of Callum’s neck. “As lovely as that sounds, I still suggest patience.” He paused. “Why don’t you tell me a story to pass the time?”

“Why...ohhh...why me?”

I’m busy,” Zevran insisted. “You are simply lying there.”

Callum made a disgusted sound. “Fine, fine. A story. What...ngh...what sort of story d-do...ohh...do you want?”

“Hmmm...” Zevran worked his hands along Callum’s spine as he considered the question, smirking whenever he successfully found a tense spot that made the Warden gasp and quiver beneath him. “A nice story: something with...a happy ending.”

Callum grunted. The tone of Zevran’s voice left no doubt as to what he’d meant by a ‘happy ending’. “One from the Circle, then.” He took a deep breath, which was immediately knocked out of him by Zevran’s knuckles digging into his back. “You’re going to have to go a bit easier on me if you want me to actually tell this story.”

Zevran sighed, but Callum felt the pressure on his body ease somewhat. “Very well, my dear Warden.”

“Alright, so – this is the story of the first time I ever had sex.”

Zevran barked a laugh. “I love these kinds of stories! Do tell.”

“I was sitting in the back of a primal magic class – we had three every week. Primal spells are one of my worst schools, you see, so I wasn’t paying much attention.”

“You weren’t a good student?”

“I had my good and bad subjects, but this was definitely the latter. Plus, it was a magical theory class, which were always the most boring. We weren’t allowed practise any spells in them – only learn about their method and applications. We were learning about lightning spells – conjuring electricity from our hands and such – and I was practically dozing off. To keep myself from passing out with boredom, I hid my hand under the table and started passing lightning between my fingertips. After a few minutes of that, a note fell onto my table. That happened fairly often – pieces of paper can be passed around quickly and easily using telekinetic magic or by conjuring air currents.”

Zevran pressed into Callum’s back, heels of his hands sinking into the Warden’s flesh.

“Mmmm...” Callum’s eyes fluttered shut, losing track of his story.

“What did this note say?” Zevran prompted.

“Hmm? Oh, right. It said, ‘If you want to have something better to do with your hands than just playing with yourself, meet me in the northeast corner of the second-floor library after this class – Lydia.’”

Zevran cooed. “Ooh, a saucy note! And from a girl, no less. And here I thought you had no interest in genders besides your own.”

“What can I say? I’m versatile.”

“Oh, you most certainly are.” Callum was certain he could feel Zevran’s cock through both their breeches, pressing firmly against him. “So, I assume you followed this Lydia’s directions?”

“After nearly poking a hole through my robes for the rest of that class, yes. I had to pluck up the courage, though. I was younger then than I am now, obviously, and I was much less...confident, I suppose. Especially when it came to sex.”

“I find that quite difficult to imagine,” Zevran said.

“Then try imagining Alistair in my shoes,” Callum told him. “That should give you the gist of what I was like.”

Zevran chortled. “Were you that bad?”

I didn’t grow up in a brothel, Zev. Sex was this vaguely-defined thing everyone whispered about but nobody ever told us how to do, or when, or where. Or at least, that’s what it was like for me at the time. In any case, I met up with Lydia at the time and place she’d told me.”

“What was she like?” Zevran asked.

Callum let out a breath. “Gorgeous. She had such bright, blonde hair and these big, round eyes. She had a notorious laugh – it sounded like a startled sheep. She was great at primal magic, but terrible at spirit magic: the total opposite of me. We had a lot to learn from each other, to say the least.” He paused. “She also had rather nice breasts, as it turned out.”

Zevran barked a laugh, but otherwise did not interrupt.

“She led me to the northeast corner – far away from the entrance of the library. It’s one of the quieter, more secluded spots in the tower, which makes it a frequent location for private moments between mages. She showed me what she’d meant by her note – a new type of magic I’d never used before.”

“Oh? What did that entail?”

“As it turns out, a low-intensity lightning spell can be very stimulating when used on certain regions of the body. Lydia showed me how to generate a harmless current, and then guided my hand up her robes so that I could touch her.” Callum remembered his teenage self shivering nervously as the girl had smiled down at him, hiking her robes up to her waist, revealing herself to him. He remembered the way she had gasped and shuddered as he’d brushed his lightning-charged hand against her sex, growing louder and more desperate as he’d increased the strength. He remembered how wet she’d become as he touched her, quivering against his two hands as they passed the current through her body. “She...she certainly enjoyed it.”

“How very interesting,” Zevran murmured into Callum’s ear, their bodies now flush together. “Did she return the favour?”

“Actually, after a few minutes of that, she asked me to fuck her. In those words, might I add.”

“How romantic,” Zevran said with a grin. “And, did you?”

Callum swallowed. “I didn’t get very far. I had to take my robes off to, well, do it properly, and so did Lydia. Mages in the Circle almost never take off their robes unless they’re bathing. And, right then, we discovered why. I was just starting to...ah, get the hang of it, when we heard heavy footsteps nearby.” Callum winced as the memory proved as vivid now as it had been all those years. “We had to scramble back into our robes as quick as a flash, which isn’t very easy when you’re panicking so hard your hands start to shake. We were lucky to get out right underneath the templars’ noses. Turns out, they knew that part of the library was being used by apprentices for ‘illicit purposes’, and they kept an eye on people coming and going from there. They were so thorough in their investigation, sweeping every last dark recess of the library, that they completely missed me and Lydia making our getaway. We fled back downstairs to the apprentice quarter and pretended we’d been up to nothing out of the ordinary when people started prodding us for details.”

Zevran rubbed Callum’s shoulders and neck. “And...did you and Lydia ever finish what you’d started?”

“Another time,” Callum told him. “Lydia and I had more than a few shared moments together in the tower. Mostly, it was just the two of us. Other times, not so much.”

“Ahhh, but those are the best times,” Zevran enthused, his full weight pressing against Callum now. “And how is Lydia now? Is she still in the tower?”

Callum swallowed. “No. A few years ago, she vanished; there one evening, and gone in the morning. That happens more often than you’d expect, in the tower. Sometimes, it’s because people are sent to another Circle. More often than not, though, it means that they failed their Harrowing.”

Zevran caught the sombre note in Callum’s voice, and pulled back until he was no longer lying atop him. “What does that mean? What is this ‘Harrowing’?”

“It’s a rite of passage every apprentice must take before they can be declared a fully-fledged mage. You’re taken out of your bed in the middle of the night and thrown into the Fade, with little to no preparation. You have to fight a demon and resist its attempts to possess you. Only then do you succeed. Meanwhile, your unconscious body is left in the waking world, watched over by the templars. If they think you’re about to be possessed, or if you’re taking too long, they murder you. Your body is burned and your few, meagre possessions are either taken or thrown away. And no one ever sees or hears from you again.”

Zevran was silent for a surprisingly long time. When he finally spoke, it was in a quiet voice. “I had thought, when we visited the tower last, that I had seen the Circle at its lowest point. Now, I’m not so sure it was ever quite as grand as it seemed in the first place.”

Callum smiled sadly. “I’m glad you understand, at least.”

Zevran sighed. “Not such a happy ending, after all, hmm?”

“There are no happy endings in the Circle, Zev.”

“Perhaps you are lucky to have left it behind you, then?”

More than you know, Callum thought. Aloud, he said, “Alright, I think it’s your turn to tell a story.”

“I told you, I’m busy,” Zevran protested.

“You liar! You’ve barely touched me these last few minutes while you were listening to me- ahhh!” Callum’s squirmed as Zevran squeezed the ache out of his muscles. “Oh, fuck me! I mean, fuck you!” he spluttered.

“Soon, soon,” Zevran promised. “My story first, yes?”

“You’re impossible,” Callum grumbled, trying his best to hide the grin on his face.

“Now, let’s see...” Zevran rolled his palms against Callum’s shoulder blades as he thought. “How much do you know of Antiva, my friend?”

“V-Very little,” Callum groaned. “It, ah, borders Rivain, Tevinter, and the Free Marches.”

“You know where it is, but not how it is,” Zevran observed. “I could not possibly begin to describe to you the sights, the sounds, the smells – seagulls squawking in their hundreds along the piers, entire fleets worth of ships creaking in the tide, the aroma of countless spices both familiar and unfamiliar wafting in the breeze...”

“You’re not doing a terrible job of describing it right now,” Callum pointed out.

Zevran sighed. “It is not the same. Nothing ever could be.”

“You sound homesick.”

“Perhaps I am,” Zevran admitted. “They say there’s no place like home...but, then again, there’s also no place like Ferelden.”

“And for that, we should probably be grateful,” Callum joked, earning a chuckle from Zevran.

“It isn’t all bad,” he said, before adding, “Although don’t tell Alistair I said that.”

“My lips are– ahh!”

Callum could hear the grin in Zevran’s voice as he began kneading a particularly sensitive spot right between Callum’s shoulder blades. “That’s what I thought.”

“A-Are you ever going to tell your bloody s-story?” he demanded. “At this rate, I’m going to s-start humping the bedroll just so I can – ohh! – finally get off.”

“Now that would be something to see.” Callum squirmed not unhappily as Zevran gave him a kiss on the side of his face that he could reach. “I suppose I should get on with it, so. Do you know of the merchant princes?” Callum shook his head. “No, I suppose you wouldn’t. The title is somewhat inaccurate, of course – they are not royalty, but rather phenomenally wealthy men who control the majority of trade and dealings in Antiva. They each possess a private army, and they each are constantly at one another’s throats. Their power plays and schemes form the backbone of Antivan politics.”

“Sounds messy,” Callum grunted. “Do they ever hire the Crows to try and eliminate the competition?”

“Not very often. In fact, the Crows will refuse most any offer made on behalf of the princes – otherwise, the country could very well tear itself apart from all the assassination attempts. It is only in very rare cases that they accept – usually when several of the princes form an alliance of convenience to do away with another of their rank. My story concerns one of those cases.

“I believe it was nearly four or five years ago now, when there was a minor scandal amongst the upper echelons of Antivan society. Marco Rubeus, the patriarch of an extremely wealthy family famed for their massive vineyards, had been a merchant prince for several decades. He had grown gravely ill, however, and the issue of his inheritance was causing much speculation as he lay wasting away in his sickbed. Marco had sired five children, and it was expected that they would each earn an equal share of his vineyard. But, once the old man finally passed away, it was discovered that he had left the entire vineyard to his favourite son, Matteo, along with his position as a merchant prince. As I’m sure you can imagine, the remaining siblings were quite understandably upset at this. Each of them contacted another merchant prince, forging an alliance that would grant them equal shares of the Rubeus vineyard if Matteo was eliminated. It was this temporary agreement between rival princes that allowed the Crows to be sent for.

“I was one of the assassins hired: myself and a fellow Crow by the name of Taliesen stole away into the Rubeus villa – which Matteo had also inherited, by the way – to kill the unfortunate heir in the middle of the night. We knew the new prince would be in his bedroom, but what we weren’t expecting to find were a pair of beautiful, naked women in bed with him.”

Callum hummed with amusement. “Caught him with his breeches down, did you?”

“As a matter of fact, his breeches had been flung far across the room by the time we walked in.”

“Was it awkward?”

“Quite. Taliesen and I stood rather foolishly by the door for a few minutes before any of the people in the room even noticed we had arrived. Matteo was overjoyed to see us. ‘Mi amigos!’ he cried. ‘Join us! There’s plenty of room for more!’”

Callum gaped. “You’re not serious! He saw two heavily-armed, suspicious-looking men barge into his bedroom and invited them to sleep with him? Is that an Antivan thing?”

He felt Zevran’s arms shift as he shrugged. “I believe it was more likely due to the young master having partaken in some of the fine wine produced on his newly-acquired vineyard. Whether it was the drink or his own lust that had gone to his head, neither Taliesen nor I knew. What we did know was that there were three very alluring people in bed together who were all rather keen that we join them.”

Callum choked. “Zev, you didn’t!”

“I will not lie to you, Callum, we most certainly did. It was not the first time I mixed business with pleasure, nor would it be the last. As a matter of fact, it was not even the first nor last time I had done so with Taliesen accompanying me.”

Callum glanced back at Zevran with an eyebrow raised. “Oh? Were you close with this ‘Taliesen’?”

“We worked well together,” Zevran replied smoothly, “in more ways than one. Taliesen liked to use brute force and strength to eliminate the mark, while I preferred to use my charm and wiles. He had reach, but I had flexibility.”

Callum grunted, feeling his cock straining against his breeches. “What did he look like? Was he...handsome?”

He heard Zevran gasp rather melodramatically. “My dear Warden, are you jealous?”

“No,” Callum admitted, gritting his teeth as his hips jerked. “But I would like to picture him fucking you. Is that alright?”

For one anxious moment of silence, Callum thought he had said something wrong. But then Zevran’s voice crept into his ear like liquid.

“Would you, now? This is a side of you I’ve never seen before.” He was so close now that Callum could hear his lips parting. “You like the idea of another man fucking me?”

Callum swallowed, his throat suddenly dry as sand. “Yes.”

“Taliesen was a human – he had a barrel of a chest, and arms like a soldier’s.” Callum didn’t resist as he felt Zevran’s hands at the top of his breeches, slowly sliding them down past his hips. “His skin was as dark and rich as mahogany, and his whole body was covered in hair as black as night.”

Callum felt his naked ass and legs exposed to the warm air inside the tent. “Tell me about his cock.”

“He was hung like a giant,” Zevran whispered into his ear, the sound of shifting fabric letting Callum know he was disrobing in turn. “He loved to fuck my face and tell me I had the finest lips north of the Waking Sea.”

Callum groaned as Zevran flipped him over so that he was lying on his back. He took in the sight of Zevran’s naked body in the half-light, his own cock throbbing proudly between his legs.

“What else would he do with you?” Callum asked, rubbing his fingers together as he summoned some grease.

Zevran was grinning lustfully down at him. “For a time, we shared quarters with some of our fellow Crows in Antiva City. He used to wait until the others were gone before bending me over my bed and pounding me from behind.”

Callum moaned as he slicked the head of his cock with the substance before transferring some of it to Zevran’s hands. “Tell me more.”

Zevran worked himself open with his hands, coating his hole with the grease. “Other times, he’d pick me up and carry me in his arms before fucking me against a wall.”

Callum gasped and groaned as Zevran guided his cock inside him. “Fuck! Don’t stop, Zev!”

“The prince we were to – ah, right there! – assassinate that night wanted to me to s-suck him off while Taliesen fucked me.” Callum saw Zevran screw his eyes shut, relishing the feel of Callum’s cock in him. “The...mmm...three of us made his fine, four-poster bed rattle and- and shake like it was caught in an earthquake.”

Callum’s head was spinning with desire and pleasure, making Zevran’s naked silhouette swim before his eyes.

“Then we – ah! – took turns fucking the two women. Then the women fucked us, with a...with a little h-help from some interesting toys the prince kept in his r-room.” Zevran was starting to slur his words in his breathlessness as he rode Callum’s cock expertly. Already, the Warden’s hips were thrusting frantically up against Zevran, whose groans of satisfaction only encouraged Callum further.

“I – oh! – I remember one of the women s-sitting on Taliesen’s face as he f-fucked me, the way y-you’re doing now,” Zevran grunted, face shining with sweat. “Ahhh! Yes, just like that!”

“Fuck, Zev, I’m close!” Callum whimpered as heat pooled in his stomach.

“Me, too,” he hissed in reply, hand stroking his own cock desperately. “Ahh, don’t hold back, Cal!”

And he didn’t, fingers squeezing Zevran’s hips as he came undone, shouting hotly. His entire body shuddered as though hit with a lightning spell, tingling sensations spreading across his skin, leaving only a warm, pleasant numbness in their wake. Seconds later, Callum heard Zevran’s own cry as his hips bucked wildly, swiftly followed by a spray of hot fluid onto his belly. Zevran’s hole clenched around him, muscle contracting tightly against his flesh. With a final, heated gasp, Zevran slumped against him, collapsing onto Callum’s chest as he his cock out. They lay there together for what felt like an Age, out of breath and utterly boneless. Callum could feel the other man’s heart hammering against his chest, and he almost unthinkingly wrapped his arms around Zevran’s back, holding him close. Somehow, it felt more tender than anything they’d done before.

“Well,” Zevran eventually said, in a hoarse voice, “that was...”

Callum swallowed, blood rushing to his face now out of sheepishness rather than exertion. “Yeah.”

Zevran twisted his neck to look up at the Warden’s face. “I must say...I didn’t know you had that in you.”

“Neither did I, really. I’ve never...acted like that before.” Callum resisted the urge to cover his face in his hands. “Ugh, Maker, I feel like an ass, now.”

Zevran chuckled quietly. “For what? Believe me, I’ve heard much more unusual requests while in bed in my years.”

Callum was still blushing so furiously he was sure it was visible even in the gloom of the tent’s interior. “Great. Well...fantastic.”

“It’s nothing to feel embarrassed about. In fact, I really rather enjoyed seeing that side of you.”

“Flames,” Callum swore, earning another laugh from Zevran.

“You learn the most interesting things about people when you bed them. The things they say, in the heat of the moment...” He paused. “You like the idea of someone else fucking me?”

Callum coughed. “So it would seem.”

“A voyeuristic streak, eh?”

“I don’t know about that. I just like seeing people...people being happy.” People I care about, he realised he’d been about to say, which was enough to make his stomach lurch.

“Unless they’re templars, of course.”

“Templars aren’t people,” Callum told him. “They don’t count.”

“Did you ever try anything like that in the Circle? A group of young apprentices, all huddled together in a dark corner of the tower, pleasuring one another with reckless haste and fervent desire?”

“Only sometimes. Rarely did we ever get intimate in groups – too much risk of drawing the templars’ attention. I’ve been, ah, shared a few times. But nothing like...well, whatever you and Taliesen got up to in the prince’s bedroom.”

Zevran cupped Callum’s jaw with his hands and pulled him down into a kiss. He hummed softly against Zevran’s lips, resisting the urge to nuzzle him with his nose as he pulled away again.

“Perhaps we shall remedy that, soon.”

Callum raised an eyebrow at him. “Is that an offer?”

“More like a suggestion,” Zevran said, sitting up at last in order to stretch, raising his hands high above his head. “After all, we are rather short on willing participants, at the moment.”

Callum’s cock, already hard again, brushed against Zevran’s rear, making a grin light up the Antivan’s face once more.

“So soon? Is this some type of magic you’re using?”

Callum chuckled. “Could be.”

“Tease.” Zevran leaned back, repositioning himself so that Callum’s cock was pressing firmly between his buttocks again. “Be that as it may, I have another idea for a spell you could use on me.”

“Oh?” Callum tilted his head. “Did my story earlier get you curious?”

Zevran cracked a gleeful smile at him. “I think you may be getting to know me a bit too well, Callum.”

“You can call me ‘Cal’, if you want.”

Zevran blinked. “Oh. Would you like me to?”

“Well, you already did – while we were...yeah.”

“Ah...well...” Zevran swallowed, glancing away momentarily. “I suppose it must have slipped out.”

“‘In the heat of the moment’?” Callum echoed, earning a dry chortle from the other man.

“Yes, yes, I see your point. Very well, Cal, your instincts are correct. I am very much intrigued by this lightning spell that Lydia girl taught you.”

“You mean this one?” Callum tapped Zevran on the thigh, released a small jolt of electricity as he did. At once, the former Crow bolted upright, his spine straightening as though a puppeteer had tugged on his strings.

“Ahh...yes, that one.” Zevran licked his lips. “Could you...do that again?”

Callum smirked, obliging him with another brush of his hand against Zevran’s other leg this time. The pulse of magic he cast was stronger this time, and now it wasn’t just Zevran’s spine that was straightening out...

“Ohhhhh, wow.” Zevran shook himself. “That was something else.”

“You want more...?”

“Yes,” Zevran said quickly. “Please.”

This time, Callum placed a hand on either one of Zevran’s thighs, allowing a current to run from one to the other, passing through Zevran’s body, which juddered against him as his mouth fell open.

“Ohhhhh, OH!”

He had never heard such a loud noise from Zevran in bed. Callum couldn’t help but grin as he stopped the spell, Zevran giving him a look much like a starving man would give a banquet.

“Again?” Callum asked mischievously.

“Cal,” he muttered. “If you do that to me again, I am going to come.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Yes, yes it- oh, fuck!”

Zevran did exactly as he’d said he would, throwing his head back and screaming as his hips jerked violently against Callum. His cock spasmed as it spent its load atop Callum once more. Zevran stayed still for a time – staring straight up at the tent’s ceiling with open mouth and wide eyes – even after Callum had let go of him.

“Zev...?”

His head slowly tilted back down to face the Warden, a shaky grin making its way across his mouth.

“I...that...I...”

“Take your time,” Callum told him.

Zevran exhaled deeply. “We...we may need to save that trick for special occasions.”

Callum laughed, grabbing hold of Zevran again and pulling him down into a tight hug. The Circle could wait. Abominations could wait. The bloody Blight could wait. Right here, right now, he was happy. And being a Grey Warden meant that happiness was all-too hard to find.

Chapter Text

Fortunately for them all, the first-enchanter had acquiesced to their plea at once, and Callum’s small group had set off immediately – now accompanied by an entourage of Circle mages, headed by Irving himself. The first-enchanter had been able to hire a boat to take them across the lake and back to Redcliffe, granting them extra speed in their journey. Even with so many of them onboard, it only took two days of sailing for them to reach the village docks.

There had been no time to waste once they’d arrived, of course. Morrigan and Wynne had managed to keep the abomination that had been Connor under control while they’d been gone, but it hadn’t been easy. The demon appeared to have been weakened, but Morrigan warned that it was more likely building up its strength for another assault. They needed to act now, before the castle was overrun with the undead once more.

Jowan had been present when the ritual was being performed, and he boldly had volunteered to enter the Fade and save Connor himself.

“You don’t have to do that,” Callum had told him firmly, but his old friend had protested.

“Cal, this was my mistake. I ought to be the one to fix it.”

“You’ve done more than enough harm already,” Irving had said, as though gently chiding a small child for telling a lie. “Leave this to the ones who know better.”

Callum had noticed Jowan’s lip tremble, before he’d lowered his head as though in a bow. “I...understand, first-enchanter.”

Not once since arriving had Irving so much as glanced at Jowan, Callum had realised. He’d clenched his fists, but had followed along with Irving’s ritual. Right before stepping into the Fade, Callum had thrown his friend a meaningful look, and hoped he’d understood:

We’ll talk later.

Returning to the Fade had been far from pleasant – not that Callum had been expecting it to be. This Desire demon’s domain was smaller than Torpor’s, but no less oppressive. When he had finally cornered the demon, he had sensed its fear. It had tried to bargain with him, as demons always do.

“What could you possibly give me that I could not simply take?” Callum had asked it, summoning his greatsword to his hand and levelling it at the demon’s throat. It had faltered then, lip curling nervously, gleaming black eyes flitting between Callum and the blade.

“Your magic is...powerful,” it had admitted. “Unfamiliar to me. Even if I desired to...I know that I could not hope to best you in a battle.”

“Correct,” Callum had said.

“Then...then let us strike a deal,” it had pressed, trying for a beguiling smile even in the face of its own demise. “What is it that you desire? You are strong, indeed, yet there are many facets of magic that you have little understanding of. I could show you – teach you...if that is what you wish?”

“I wish for you to leave Connor Guerrin’s body at once. You will never return, nor leave any trace of yourself behind.”

“I see.” The demon had paused. “And what do you offer in return?”

“Your life,” Callum had growled, turning the blade for emphasis.

The demon’s head had slowly lowered, a crestfallen expression crossing its face. “...Very well. I will do as you command.”

But Callum had spoken up, just as his surroundings had started to vanish. “Wait. There may one more thing I need you to do for me...”

 

 

Arl Eamon slumbered still. His breathing was no longer laboured or ragged, but not once did he stir. Bann Teagan and the arlessa had insisted upon giving Eamon space while he recuperated. Connor, on the other hand, was wide awake and seemingly back to his normal self once again. He remembered nothing of what had happened while he’d been possessed, which most agreed was probably for the best. Once things had settled down somewhat, Teagan said, he would sit the boy down and explain to him as gently as possible what had happened to him and Redcliffe. After that, Connor would be sent to the Circle.

As though it would be any safer for him there than in the castle, Callum thought bitterly. After everything that happened, the Veil is thinner there than probably anywhere else in Ferelden.

Meanwhile, the party were finally given the chance to rest after all of their hard work – Morrigan and Wynne in particular. The older woman hadn’t complained once during the week she had spent watching over Connor, apparently, in total contrast to Morrigan. However, both of them had done what had been asked of them to save Connor, without thought of refusal. To Callum, that counted for something.

Alistair and Barkspawn had both naturally been thrilled to see Callum again. Even Sten had given him the tiniest of nods upon seeing him return. Leliana had apparently been visiting the village – particularly the chantry, of course – and had taken to regaling the people with her various songs and stories to help them keep the faith during this troubled time. Zevran, predictably, wanted to use the party’s downtime to ‘explore’ some of the less-occupied rooms of the castle with Callum, but the Warden had much to do before he could take it easy.

His first task was to find Irving – the first enchanter had done what was required of him, and was already making preparations to return to the Circle, along with the mages he had brought with him. Callum caught up to him in the entrance hall. Irving smiled obliviously when he saw him.

“Callum, my boy! I wasn’t certain we would have the chance to say goodbye before we left.”

“I wouldn’t miss it,” Callum muttered. “In fact, I was hoping I’d get the chance to talk to you.”

Irving raised a grey eyebrow. “Is that so? Truly, there is no need to thank us, my lad. The Circle owed you a debt for your assistance – one I was more than happy to repay here...”

Callum shook his head. “Actually, I have something that belongs to you.” He pulled the journal out from his satchel and held it out for Irving to see. He couldn’t fail to miss the way the old man’s eyes widened as he recognised the book before him. “This is your journal, isn’t it?”

Irving’s eyes flickered up to meet Callum’s gaze briefly, before dipping back down to the journal. “It...is, yes.”

“So you admit that you wrote everything contained within?”

Irving swallowed nervously. “This journal disappeared from my office after the Circle was taken over by demons. I cannot vouch for anything that was written in it after that date.”

“And yet, every word in this journal was clearly written in the same hand – yours.”

“Callum, please.” Irving’s voice was soft, pleading. He didn’t want to be overheard by the other Circle mages, but Callum only raised his voice.

“First Enchanter Irving, did you write this journal?”

The atmosphere in the hall changed as the others mages’ attention was drawn to them both. Irving’s hands were held limply at his sides, his jaw set.

“And what if I did? Would you deprive an old man of his Maker-given right to keep a journal?”

Callum shook his head, temper rising. “Don’t act the fool, Irving. Should I give an example?”

Callum flicked open the book, turning to the very first page he had read from after having taken the journal from the Circle. Out of the corner of his eye, Callum saw the first enchanter’s fingers twitch. The book immediately swung shut as though caught in a gust, catching Callum’s thumb painfully between its pages.

“There is no need for my private writings to be discussed so publicly,” Irving protested, taking a step towards Callum with one arm outstretched. “If you wish, we may speak of this in a more discreet location...”

“That’s not going to happen,” Callum vowed, wrenching the book back open again. With his own magic fuelling his strength, he was able to resist whatever telekinetic spell the first enchanter was using to try and keep the journal closed. He read now from the journal, in a loud voice. “Justinian 1st – 9:30 Dragon. I followed another apprentice through supposed secret manoeuvres today, and exposed her tendency towards blood magic. The environment of the tower is such that certain modes of thought are encouraged, both for good and ill. The students think we toy with them. The truth is far more intricate and directed. Deviant traits must be exposed early, or the whole of the Circle suffers.”

The mages were staring at Callum and Irving both, unsure of who to look at. The first enchanter was standing rigidly in the centre of the hall, piercing Callum with a glare hidden to the mages standing behind him.

“Well, Irving? Do you deny writing this?” Callum turned the pages, flicking closer to the end of the journal. “How about another passage? Kingsway 4th – 9:30 Dragon. The young man named Jowan has failed the test, just as I predicted he would. He leaped to the bait I offered him, and now I have proof that he has been practising blood magic. The templars need only wait until the opportune time to move in, but great care must be taken – as ever. Jowan is weak, but I have no doubt that blood magic has greatly amplified his magical prowess, and confronting him directly may have dire consequences. Instead, I shall approach one of my own apprentices. He is close to Jowan, and undoubtedly he will know-”

Callum broke off and swore as the journal burst into flame against his hands. He dropped it to the floor reflexively before his skin could catch alight, and could do nothing but watch as the magical fire consumed the book within seconds, turning to ash before his eyes. Callum looked up to see the first enchanter still standing before him with a hand outstretched. Smoke curled between his fingers, unmistakable to anyone watching. A young mage standing behind Irving moved forward, a frown creasing her forehead.

“First Enchanter, is this all true?” she demanded. Callum recognised her now – Enchanter Marian, a kindly woman who taught Creation magic to the apprentices. “Did you really write all that?”

“This boy is lying,” Irving murmured to her, never taking his eyes away from Callum, who sneered when he heard the first enchanter deliberately not using his name – just as he so often had chided Greagoir for not doing. “He stole my journal and proceeded to fill it with fabrications. Pay it no mind.”

“Your words are empty, Irving,” Callum said, sweeping a foot through the pile of ashes on the floor. “If everything I read was a lie, then why did you burn the journal?”

“You refused to listen to reason, and I responded in kind.” Irving sniffed, drawing himself up to his fullest height. “It was undignified, but necessary.”

Callum opened his mouth to retort, but someone else spoke first – another of the Circle mages.

“I remember what happened to Sofia,” he said. Callum didn’t know the man’s name, but recognised him as another enchanter. He was older than Marian, with lined eyes and a narrow mouth. “She and I joined the Circle at the same time; she was like a sister to me.” He pointed accusingly at Irving. “But you told me she had ‘succumbed to the allure of blood magic’, and I never saw her again. The templars said she’d been sent to Aeonar. Was that all your doing, as well?”

Irving whirled around to face him. “Sofia was a maleficar, and a threat to the tenuous peace of the Circle of Magi. She could never have remained with us.” He paused, before continuing in a lower voice. “You fail to understand the difficult choices a first enchanter must make – all of you do. All I have done, I did for the sake of the Circle.”

The man shook his head in disgust, turning on his heel and marching out of the castle. Marian followed him, leaving three other mages behind, each looking uncomfortably down at their boots. Irving faced Callum again with narrowed eyes.

“What do you hope to accomplish by this? Is this your idea of vengeance?”

“Call it justice,” Callum said. “It’s hard to find in this world, so I deal it where I can.”

Irving’s lip curled. “Is this how you repay me? After all I have done for you as your mentor – as your friend?”

“No ‘friend’ of mine would have done what you did to Jowan. And you weren’t mentoring me, either – just using me, like how you used him and everyone else in that tower. We’re just pawns; it’s all some fucking game to you.”

“You still don’t understand...”

“You’re right!” Callum cut in. “I don’t! I don’t understand how someone could be so ruthless and cruel to the people he pretends to protect. I can’t understand it.” He heard his own voice crack, and fell silent.

“Then there is nothing more we need say to one another,” Irving said evenly. “I must return to the Circle. I have responsibilities you could not begin to fathom.”

“I’m sure I couldn’t.” Callum jerked his head towards the door. “Now get out of my sight.”

He turned away, not bothering to watch the first enchanter leave. He made for the dungeons. After all, he also had responsibilities that needed to be taken care of...

 

 

Jowan was being kept in the same cell he’d been locked away in before the castle had been overrun with demons. A single guard led Callum to the cell, where he found Jowan sitting on a decrepit old bed, which creaked ominously as he sat up upon seeing Callum enter.

“You’ve got a quarter of an hour,” the guard informed him. “It’s dangerous to keep anyone with a maleficar for long. Be careful.”

“I will,” Callum said. “And thank you.”

The guard nodded at the Warden, cast a suspicious glance at Jowan, and then left hurriedly – more than likely glad to be away from the ‘dangerous’ blood mage. Jowan waited until the guard was gone before hopping up off the bed and crossing over to the bars.

“You’re the first kind face I’ve seen in far too long, old friend,” Jowan said in a reedy voice.

“I know, Jowan, I know.” Callum sighed and pressed his head against one of the bars. “I tried to get Bann Teagan to let you out – even just to stay in a nicer room in the castle. He might even have agreed, were it not for the arlessa.”

“You didn’t have to...” Jowan shook his head. “This is what I deserve.” He paused. “Arl Eamon, is he...?”

“Still alive,” Callum told him, making Jowan sigh with relief. “But he doesn’t look close to awakening. What kind of poison did you give him?”

“I don’t know,” Jowan admitted, wincing. “Loghain was the one who supplied it to me. I was given instructions on how to administer it, and...well, that was it.” Jowan looked on the verge of tears. “I’ve been a bloody fool, haven’t I? Everything I’ve done – before and after leaving the Circle...” He covered his face with his hands. “By Andraste, I’ve made a mess of it all.”

“Listen to me, Jowan.” Callum gripped the bars of the cell with both hands. “I won’t deny you’ve made some mistakes. But, if I were in your shoes, I doubt I would have done any differently.”

Jowan scoffed, the sound muffled by his hands. “Don’t be ridiculous. Sure, you always bit back at the templars when they baited you, but you were a model student at the Circle. You would never have turned to blood magic just to...just to get one over on a friend.”

Callum blinked. “What...?”

“That’s the reason why I did it, Cal.” Jowan peered out at him through his fingers. “Why I took up blood magic. I was jealous of you – how easy it all came to you. You were always off fooling around instead of studying magic, but you never had any trouble with spells like I did. I wanted to impress you...or maybe I just wanted to beat you at something.”

“Jowan...” Callum screwed his eyes shut. “I’m sorry. I never knew you were struggling like that. Looking back, I’m sure it was obvious. I wasn’t paying attention to you, clearly.”

“Well, I can’t say I blame you,” Jowan said, without any bitterness or malice.

“Don’t be like that. You found love in the Circle, unlike me. Lily saw how kind and beautiful and brave you were. You were going to break out of the Circle and elope, remember?” He tried for a grin. “I’d never have had the nerve to try something like that.”

“My Lily...” Jowan let out a shuddering breath. “But I fucked that up, too, didn’t I? She probably hates me now, wherever she is. No matter what I do, I always end up ruining it.”

“We all make mistakes, Jowan.” Callum paused. “And some of them weren’t even your fault, truth be told.”

“Like what?” Jowan grunted.

“The first enchanter, he...he tricked you into learning blood magic.”

Jowan’s hands dropped as he fixed Callum with a baffled stare. “You’re joking, right? Irving had nothing to do with it – I found that book on maleficarum and read it in secret. That’s what led me to trying it out.”

“And where did you find it?”

“It was...” Jowan frowned, folding his arms. “It was in the library one day.”

“Was it hidden?”

“Well, no, but...” Jowan’s frown deepened. “It wasn’t hidden at all, actually. It might as well have been out there in the open.”

“A book about blood magic, left alone in the middle of the library? You didn’t think that was suspicious?”

Jowan grumbled. “You know me – I never think much at all. But you think First Enchanter Irving put it there?”

“By all rights, a book like that should have been confiscated. There’s no way it would have been in the Circle library by accident – certainly not out in the open.”

Jowan raised a hand to his chin as he pondered. “That’s still quite a stretch to pin it on Irving.”

“Well, I found his journal. He detailed in it how he’d encouraged certain apprentices – ones who showed ‘signs’ of falling prey to blood magic – to pursue that line of research. He entrapped his own students only to confront them once they’d gone too far. He did it to you, and Maker knows how many others.”

“You...he...” Jowan was too stunned to speak.

“He treated you like something to be used. Whatever you did afterwards, becoming a blood mage was not your fault.”

Jowan’s eyes fluttered shut, and Callum could see tears pinpricking in the corners, glinting in the half-light.

“...It was still my decision,” Jowan said, earning a frustrated groan from Callum.

“For Andraste’s sake, Jowan!” Callum shoved himself away from the bars. “What don’t you understand? Irving tricked you into following this path, and then acted like it was some sort of personal fucking triumph. I cornered him earlier as he was leaving this castle, just to see if he would even apologise for what he’d done. But he showed no remorse. He denied it all and called me a liar, then burned his own journal in front of a group of witnesses to prevent the evidence from getting out.” He met Jowan’s gaze with pleading eyes. “Believe me, Jowan. None of this would have happened were it not for Irving’s schemes. You’d still be in the Circle – or, Maker, maybe you’d have gotten out and you’d be living a happy life with Lily right now.” Callum cut himself off, deciding it was better not to dwell on Jowan’s lost love. “The point is, you aren’t as responsible as you think. You were hurt and manipulated, and taken advantage of by men with more power and experience than either one of us.”

Jowan was silent for some time. Callum cast a glance towards the door, but there was no sign of the guard returning just yet.

“Why are you doing this?” Jowan eventually asked. “Is this all supposed to make me feel better? Whether it was Irving’s fault or my own, I’m the one who’s paying the price. That’s why I’m here in this cell, and he’s likely on his way back to the tower.”

Callum nodded sadly, approaching the bars again. “I know, Jowan. It’s not fair. It’s not right. And I can’t change the past – nobody can. But I can make things better for people, here and now. That’s why I became a Grey Warden...although I can promise you that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

Despite everything, Jowan chuckled. Callum joined in. Aside from the cell door between them, it was almost like old times, for just a moment.

“What are you going to do, now?” Jowan asked him. “I expect you’ll be looking for a way to cure the arl?”

“That’s the plan. If we can find the Urn of Sacred Ashes, we might stand a chance.”

“Maker’s breath.” A weak smile tugged at one corner of Jowan’s mouth. “Fighting darkspawn, saving villages, and hunting down legendary objects? I definitely got the short end of the stick after escaping the Circle.”

“Like I said – it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Trust me.” Callum reached down towards his belt and withdrew a small, pointed dagger. “But before I can do any of that, there’s something very important I need to take care of.”

“Cal...?”

At that moment, there was an abrupt sound of a door being flung open, followed at once by heavy footsteps coming closer. Callum removed one gauntlet and sliced open the back of his wrist just as the guard stepped into the hallway.

“Your time is-”

Callum splayed his palm, harnessing the power of the blood he had just drawn. Jowan watched open-mouthed as the blood from Callum’s arm shot through the air and sprayed across the guard’s face, burning hot, sinking into his skin. He didn’t even have time to cry out as he crumpled, armour clattering against the stone floor. Callum stood, racing over to the downed soldier as Jowan gaped.

“Cal! Y-You...! I can’t...I can’t believe...!” Jowan spluttered incoherently for a few seconds. “You, of all people?!”

Callum found his prize – a set of keys on a large ring – and fished them off the unconscious guard. He made his way back to Jowan’s cell, seeing the horrified expression on his friend’s face.

“You’re supposed to be the smart one, of the pair of us!” Jowan protested. “Why...why would you turn to blood magic, too?”

“It’s a long story,” Callum said, slotting one key into the lock on the cell door. “And that guard will wake up soon.” The key didn’t turn, so he tried the next one on the ring.

“Why are you doing this, Cal?”

“If you stay here, you’ll either be executed, or get sent back to the Circle.” Another key. “And the only thing waiting for you back at the tower now is a Tranquil brand. Nobody deserves that.”

Callum could see a multitude of emotions crash through Jowan’s expression out of the corner of his eye as he made his way through the keys. But Jowan said nothing until – at long last – one of the keys turned all the way. The lock clicked, and the cell door swung open. Callum stood, just as Jowan stumbled out of the cell and threw his arms around his friend.

“Thank you,” he choked, quivering slightly against Callum. “I...don’t know what else to say.”

Callum gave Jowan a pat on the back as he returned the hug. “You can’t linger. If you follow this passage all the way down, you’ll find a way out of the castle. It’ll take you to the windmill on the outskirts of the village. From there, you’ll be on your own.” They separated, but Callum kept a grip on Jowan’s shoulders. “If you want my advice, you’d be better off leaving Ferelden altogether. Head west to Orlais, or make for West Hill and take a boat across the Waking Sea. Even if the Circle doesn’t find you, the Blight might do instead.”

Jowan nodded, lip still trembling, but eyes burning with determination. “I hope we meet again one day. And, for all our sakes, I hope you end this Blight.”

“Me too, Jowan.” With one last clap on the back, they let go. Jowan immediately turned and ran down the corridor, and vanished into the darkness.

Callum exhaled deeply, before crossing back over to the guard he had knocked out. It had been his first time using blood magic, but the knowledge he’d gained from the Desire demon burned in his mind, showing him the way. It wasn’t so different from how he’d learned the way of the Arcane Warrior, really. Not so different at all, he reassured himself.

He dragged the guard’s limp body across the room until it was lying right in front of Jowan’s cell, positioning it in such a way that – to anyone who happened across the guard – it would look as though he’d been standing at the cell door when he’d collapsed. Next, Callum placed the ring of keys into the guard’s hand. Now, for the difficult part. Callum’s wrist was still bleeding slowly, and he took advantage of that to cast another spell. His final thoughts as the spray of his own blood shot towards his head were of Jowan.

Then sheer, burning agony as the blood sank into his flesh, coating his face with crimson, and he passed out.

 

 

Callum lurched awake, body aching from where he’d fallen against the hard floor. Someone was standing over him and was holding him firmly by the shoulders, shaking him. The figure’s face came into focus – Alistair.

“Cal...? Cal...!” The other Warden’s voice was so loud in Callum’s ears that he flinched. His face was still sore from the spell he’d cast on himself, and the back of his wrist throbbed dully. He couldn’t help but groan in sheer discomfort.

“He’s awake?” That was Leliana’s voice – more distant than Alistair’s, but still painfully loud.

“Cal, wake up!”

“Stop shouting,” Callum tried to say, but his lips had trouble forming the words.

“What?” Alistair shook Callum again. “What is it?”

“I believe he wants you to be quiet.” Zevran’s voice was unmistakable, even through the haze. “He’s just been knocked out cold. You could stand to be a bit more gentle with him.”

“Oh,” Alistair muttered, easing his grip on Callum’s shoulders. “Sorry.”

Callum groaned again as he sat up, eyes blinking open. Alistair’s face hovered above him, concern etched across his expression. Other shapes loomed in the background – some armoured, some not.

“What happened...?” Callum managed to grunt.

“You were attacked,” Leliana explained, lowering her voice until it was at a more tolerable volume. “Jowan broke out of his cell using blood magic. He’s escaped the castle.”

“The arl’s men are hunting him down as we speak,” Alistair said. “The sooner they find him, the better. I can’t believe he’d attack you, of all people!”

“He must have been desperate,” Zevran commented, before asking, “Are you alright, Cal?”

Callum screwed his eyes shut, trying to will the headache away. He hadn’t realised just how potent the spell would be, but perhaps that was for the best; it would make his performance much more convincing.

“I...think so,” he said, voice rasping slightly through his dry throat. “I just...I just need to lie down for a little while.”

Leliana nodded. “We can bring you upstairs to your room. Wynne can have a look at you...”

“No need,” Callum said hurriedly, trying to hide the note of panic in his voice. “I’ll be fine once I’ve rested. This isn’t my first time being hit with a blood magic spell, you know.”

Wynne would notice the wound on the back of his wrist immediately if she were to try and heal him. Chantry mouthpiece or not, she was an astute person; she’d quickly figure out for herself what had happened in the dungeon.

“If you’re sure...” Leliana shrugged, but helped Callum to his feet along with Alistair.

“I can walk, I promise,” he reassured them. They let go, but Zevran took him by the arm regardless and led him out of the dungeon. They walked past Bann Teagan speaking with a guard Callum recognised as the same one who he had knocked out earlier. The man looked dazed and confused, but was talking in a rather firm tone about how the dangerous blood mage must have forced him to open the cell. Callum tried not to let his giddiness at having pulled off a successful plan show on his face as he was led away.

“You’re going straight to bed,” Zevran promised.

“Is that a euphemism?” Callum half-joked.

“For once, it is not. In truth, Cal, I was worried about you.”

“Oh?” Callum didn’t fail to notice the way his stomach churned at the thought.

“Yes, well...” Zevran swallowed, not meeting Callum’s eye. “I have grown rather used to our shared nights together. If anything were to happen to you...I’d have to find some other person to warm my bedroll. And I don’t fancy my chances in this group – I fear most of them would sooner gut me than rearrange my guts, if I may be so crude.”

Callum didn’t look at him in turn, worried the disappointment on his face would be apparent. It was foolish, of course, to think that Zevran had grown to care for him as something other than someone to fuck.

“And,” Zevran went on, “I’d be losing a friend.”

Callum did turn that time, glancing at the other man’s face in surprise. “Oh. I didn’t know you...thought of me as a friend.”

“An assassin’s life need not always be a lonely one,” Zevran remarked. “I’ve had people close to me from time to time – someone to share a drink with, or a bed. Is that so unusual?”

Callum shook his head, unable to stop a smile from forming. “No, no, it’s not. I’m glad to call you my friend, Zev. Just so long as you do your best to keep Wynne away from me while I’m asleep,” he added.

Zevran chuckled. “That, I can handle.”

Chapter Text

The journey from Redcliffe to Denerim along the King’s Highway proved long and arduous; the road took them straight through territory now veritably swarming with darkspawn, and a journey that should have taken roughly a fortnight was clearly going to take much longer. What was more, it was nearing the end of Harvestmere, and the oncoming winter brought with it ice and frost. Complicating matters further still, they’d been out of Redcliffe for scarcely a day when they’d been set upon by yet another group of assassins. This time, their aim had been to capture Leliana, seemingly under orders from a woman from her past – an Orlesian bard named Marjolaine. As it so happened, Marjolaine was now hiding out in Denerim, and so the party set off once more with renewed purpose after dispatching their attackers.

A week had passed since the attack, and Leliana’s mood had yet to improve: she spent her time at camp pacing by the fire and muttering to herself in Orlesian. It didn’t seem as though she would calm down until this business with Marjolaine had been taken care of. Callum couldn’t blame her, of course – Leliana had shared with him the details of her past. She told him how she had been taught the ways of the bard by Marjolaine, and how the two of them had grown close, only for the woman she’d loved and trusted to stab her in the back. Leliana had barely managed to escape Orlais with her life. She’d spent the past few years hiding in Lothering, supposedly where Marjolaine could never find her. She’d felt safe and secure, and she’d found a new calling in her life in Ferelden. Now, all of that had crashed down around her ears. He couldn’t imagine how it felt.

Zevran was doing his best to cheer her up, in his own way. He’d insisted Leliana sit down with him by the campfire for a ‘calming chat’. Judging by the unamused expression on her face, half-framed in shadows from the fire, Zevran was having little success.

“...and never did I lay eyes upon those perky, Tevinter buttocks again,” he was saying, with the air of having concluded a long, winding tale. “So, you see? Sometimes, it is better to leave the past where it lies, hmm?”

Leliana blinked. “I...fail to see how that story relates to my problems with Marjolaine.”

Zevran let out a weary sigh. “Alright, alright. How’s about this, then – a maleficar, a cleric, and a pirate all walk into a bar...”

“That’s quite alright, Zevran.” Leliana quickly held up a hand for silence. “Really, I know you’re just trying to help, but I would rather be left alone. Please.”

Zevran nodded, a sad smile creasing his lips. “As you wish, my dear.” He got to his feet, gave Leliana a slight bow, before turning on his heel and marching away. He passed Callum, brushing against him, one hand trailing against the Warden’s exposed skin for a brief moment, and then he was gone. Shaking away the tingles from where Zevran had touched him, Callum took a seat next to Leliana. Neither one of them spoke for quite some time. Eventually, Callum decided that if Leliana had wished him to leave, she would have said so. With that, he spoke at last.

“What was it like, being a bard?”

For a time, there was no response. Slowly, Leliana turned her head to glance at him. Then, in a low voice, she replied, “It was terrifying.

“Every day was like a battle – waged against foes both powerful and invisible. Some days were spent stalking through vast manors in search of damning evidence, praying nobody would spot you. Other days were spent in front of crowded rooms, praying nobody looks away from your performance for a moment, lest they notice your colleague’s subterfuge. I killed, I tortured, I seduced, and I blackmailed. I plotted and schemed, lied and swindled.” She paused. “And I loved every last moment of it.”

Callum raised his eyebrows, but didn’t interrupt.

“It thrilled me, being a bard in the Orlesian court. The secrecy, the intrigue, the romances and trysts – with men, women, and others. It was like living in a novel – one where I was the heroine, and I could choose where my adventures would lead me. It takes skill and courage to gamble with one’s own life, but I was very good at it. After all, I had been well-taught. In the end, however, it caught up with me – as it does everyone, eventually.” Her tone was flat, almost devoid of emotion.

“You sound as though...you think you deserved it,” Callum remarked.

“...Perhaps I do think so.” Her head turned away from him, looking towards the campfire. “When one plays with fire, one inevitably gets burned.”

Callum grumbled. “Now you’re sounding too much like the people who justify their oppression of mages by insisting that magic is dangerous. Whatever Marjolaine said – whatever she will say once we find her – you didn’t deserve what she did to you.”

Leliana was silent for a time. When she spoke, her voice was low. “I appreciate your words. But it really is quite difficult to stop thinking of these things, now that my troubled past has finally caught up to me.”

“That’s understandable.” Callum shook his head wearily. “To think, I’d once wanted to be a bard, myself...”

Leliana’s head turned sharply to look at him. “No!” she gasped. “Surely not?”

Callum flushed. “It was just a childish daydream. I fantasised often as a boy, and liked to imagine myself as a travelling minstrel – performing all over Thedas and awing the people with my beautiful voice.”

Leliana’s mouth was hanging wide open, an expression of delight on her face, but she didn’t interrupt.

“I’m sure my poor mother grew tired of me singing around the house at all hours – well, yowling, more like. But my father wanted to ‘encourage my gift’, I think. He brought me home a lute one year as a present for Satinalia.”

“Oh? Did you ever play it?”

“I did...for about an hour or so. But then I got frustrated at myself for not immediately being an excellent player, and I took it out on the unfortunate instrument. Smashed the blasted thing over Mother’s favourite end table in a tantrum.”

Leliana couldn’t stop the giggles from bursting out. “Oh, no!”

“So, musical instruments were out of the question. And then my grandfather quickly put an end to any delusions of becoming a minstrel once he found out, of course.”

Leliana’s laughter died. “I suppose there was no choir in the Circle?”

“There wasn’t,” he confirmed. “Certainly not for the apprentices.”

“A shame. What happened to your dream of becoming a minstrel?”

“It died. Probably for the best, knowing what I know now of bards. I suppose being a travelling minstrel isn’t really the same thing as being a bard of the Orlesian court, but I doubt that life would have suited me, anyway.”

“It can be terribly lonesome,” Leliana told him. “For me, being a bard brought with it both danger and excitement, in equal measure. But being a Chantry sister gave me neither of those things. Which, I wonder, was when I was happiest?”

Callum stared into the depths of the fire, watching the flames flicker and dance. “I can’t answer that for you.”

“No,” Leliana said. “I suppose not.” She let out a gentle sigh. “It is pointless to think about this now, of course. Once Marjolaine has been dealt with...I shall ponder this again. In the meantime, however...”

When Callum glanced back at Leliana again, he was surprised to see a warm smile on her face.

“How about a song?”

Callum raised an eyebrow at her. “I didn’t think you’d be in the mood for singing.”

“I’m not.”

“Then...?”

“Why don’t you give it a go?”

Callum blinked. “What? No!”

She giggled at his expression. “Why not?”

“Because I’m tremendously out of practise, that’s why!”

“That wouldn’t bother me. I’m sure you have a lovely singing voice, regardless.”

Callum stammered incoherently for a few seconds. “What would I even sing?” he wondered.

“Anything you like!” Leliana encouraged him. “Something from the Chant?”

“Definitely not!”

Leliana laughed. “Alright. A folk song, then?”

“From Ferelden? I don’t think I know any.”

“None from the Free Marches?”

“Not that I can remember.”

“You must know some songs?” she pressed.

He did. But they brought with them some uncomfortable memories. “I suppose there was one...”

“Yes?” Leliana cocked her head.

“It’s a lullaby; my mother would sing it to me sometimes.” He swallowed. “I doubt I could do it justice.”

“Then just do your best,” she reassured him.

For a moment, Callum remained silent as he stared into the fire. Then...

 

“Sleep, now, my love,

For darkness fills the night,

And the air grows cold and still.

We await the dawn’s sweet light.

 

Sleep, now, my love,

And dreams shall soothe your ache.

The Fade will wash your pain away

Long before you awake.

 

Sleep, now, my love,

For the stars are in the sky.

They gaze down upon you with their brilliant light

As we bid the day goodbye.”

 

The silence that filled the air after he’d finished singing made a flush rise in Callum’s face, and he dropped his gaze until he was staring at his legs, crossed beneath him. As expected, his voice had sounded rough, and had cracked more than once. All of a sudden, he felt small and embarrassed, like a child again – struggling to play the instrument his father had gotten just for him, or sobbing as he received yet another reprimand from an unsmiling templar. Most of all, he thought of his mother – where was she now? Was she still alive? Did she even remember him, or care about him at all? Would she be proud of what he had done...?

“That was lovely,” Leliana gently told him, snapping him out of his churning thoughts. He turned to see her smiling warmly at him, and the pain welling up inside him seemed to ease.

“Well, I’m glad you enjoyed it,” he said, “because I won’t be doing it again.”

“That’s alright,” she reassured him. “Perhaps, in another life, you would have made a decent minstrel.”

Callum snorted, but gave her a smile all the same. Just then, there was a shifting of movement out of the corner of his eye, accompanied by the sound of breaking twigs. Leliana saw it too, and jumped to her feet at the same time as Callum, drawing her bow. The two of them watched as a black-furred wolf loped into camp, briefly glancing at them both with a pair of familiar golden eyes, before turning away and making for the far end of the campsite.

The two of them relaxed, and Leliana put her weapon back down again.

“She ought to give us some warning before doing that,” Leliana murmured, in a dark tone.

“I’ll go talk to her,” Callum said. “You’ve got enough on your mind for the moment without having to worry about her, as well.”

Leliana quirked an eyebrow at him. “And you haven’t?”

He didn’t reply, but gave her a wink as he stepped away from the campfire, moving out into the cold night air. He crossed over to where the wolf, now in its usual human form once more, was setting up a bundle of sticks on the ground.

“Morrigan.”

“Warden,” she responded, her back to him as she fiddled with the twigs she had gathered.

Callum almost huffed. She was going to make this difficult, he was certain.

“When you entered camp just now...”

“Did I frighten you?” Morrigan asked, not looking up at him still.

“Yes,” he admitted, hoping she would appreciate him being straightforward. “We hadn’t been expecting anything to approach the camp. I thought we were under attack, for a moment.”

“A touch of wariness will do you no harm,” she told him, summoning fire to her hands.

“We were attacked by bandits less than a week ago!” Callum reminded her as she cast the fire spell onto the twigs. “We’re on-edge enough as it is.”

“And yet, you had no problem regaling the entire forest with your singing.”

The burning in Callum’s cheeks made him thankful the witch still had her back to him. “I...it wasn’t as though I was singing loudly!”

“To you, perhaps. To the ears of a wolf, however – or any wandering predator – ‘tis another story altogether.”

He sighed. “It won’t happen again, I promise you.”

Morrigan chuckled. “Forgive me, but I wasn’t criticising your voice. I merely find it amusing for you to be so surprised by creatures finding the campsite when you insist on making so much noise.” She paused, stoking the fire with a large branch. “I will...endeavour to be less sudden in my return from late-night travels. Shall I give a signal of some sort, in future?”

“That would be great,” Callum said, relaxing slightly. “Even just a howl, or something, to let us know you’re nearby.”

“Very well,” she said, standing up at last and turning to face him and give him a nod. “I promise.”

“Thank you, Morrigan.”

She folded her arms. “‘Tis a minor issue, I suppose. Not one deserving of your gratitude.”

“Even so. I was afraid we’d be arguing in circles for hours.”

Morrigan scoffed. “Think you so little of me?”

“It’s what experience has taught me,” he retorted.

For a moment, Callum thought he had crossed a line. Then, Morrigan’s arms dropped to her sides.

“Perhaps you have a point. I am not as different from my mother as I thought.”

“I didn’t say that,” Callum muttered with a wince. “I’m not that cruel.”

“This is true, also.” She sank back down to the ground, then nodded to the space beside her. “Sit, if you wish.”

He did as she suggested, taking a seat next to her on the grassy ground. He regarded her quietly as she poked and prodded at the fire, until it was giving off a gentle, warm glow. Judging by the way the expression of her face shifted, she knew full well he was studying her – something only confirmed when she next spoke.

“What is it you expect to find while staring at me so?” she asked, eyes locked on the fire again. “Knowledge? Wisdom? Some hidden truths I have yet to share?”

“I’m just wondering if you’re feeling alright,” he replied.

She shot him a glance out of the corner of her eye. “‘Tis little concern of yours how I am ‘feeling’.”

“That’s not true. You’re part of this group, Morrigan, whether you like it or not.”

“Well, then, there is nothing for you to fear,” she told him. “My current disposition will have no impact on my performance in battle, I promise you.”

“That’s good to hear,” he admitted. “But that’s not the only reason I’m concerned. You’re my friend.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Truly? There is no...ulterior motive for this interest in me?”

“What sort of motive do you suspect me of having?”

“I could not say,” she muttered. “I believe it may have something to do with those entranced looks you occasionally throw my way when you think me unaware.”

“Wh-What?!” Callum spluttered, heat rising in his cheeks again, and Morrigan cackled just like her mother.

“So you do look at me,” she crowed, her triumphant smile half-illuminated by the fire. “The tone of surprise in your voice and the colour of your face betray you.”

 

Callum squirmed. Maybe it was a little bit true, he supposed. It wasn’t as though Callum had no attraction to women – and as far as women went, Morrigan was one of the most attractive he’d ever encountered. She knew it, too: it was plain in the way she walked, how she smiled knowingly at him whenever she caught him looking her way. He swallowed nervously.

“You are very beautiful, it’s true.”

And, to his surprise, it was now Morrigan’s turn to flush. He couldn’t fail to notice the way her cheeks were tinged with pink as she turned away from him to face the fire again.

“I...thank you,” she said, with a touch of uncertainty. “Tis uncommon for a man to say such things to me.”

“I find that hard to believe,” Callum remarked.

“What I mean is that they tend to phrase those comments far more crassly – they prefer to focus on my breasts, or my hips, or my skin...or on occasion, my feet.” She shuddered.

“Men are terrible. And I’m no exception.”

“Flemeth often said the same. And while that may be the case, you are different still from most men who like to look at me. Too often, they interpret my curious stare or bared skin as some sort of ‘invitation’.”

An image flashed in Callum’s memory of Ser Porter cornering Feyren in the library, teeth bared and eager hands grasping, and he suppressed a flinch.

“I know the type,” he assured her. “Did they ever hurt you?”

“I never gave them the chance. They were given a single warning, which they invariably ignored, before suddenly finding their breeches filled with spiders.”

Spiders?” Callum echoed in both shock and amusement.

“Sometimes scorpions,” she added. “Either way, they rarely bothered me again.”

“I hope I never give you any reason to put spiders in my breeches,” he muttered.

“I should hope not, either. ‘Twould leave little room for elves.”

Callum groaned. “Please don’t tell me you have a lecture for me, as well?”

“I am not Alistair,” she said darkly. “What you do in the privacy of your own tent is of no concern to me.” She paused. “However, you could stand to be a touch quieter. ‘Tis rather distracting, at times.”

“Sorry.” When they reached Denerim, Callum decided, he would invest in some sort of gag. “Zevran is...talented.”

“Evidently. The looks you give me are not half as longing as the ones you give him.”

Callum’s jaw clenched. “I...see.”

“I am not in the habit of giving advice,” she said, “but you ought to remember, on occasion, who he is. Bedding a man does not change his nature, nor his profession.”

Zevran was still an assassin, she meant. And, as usual, she had a point. It was natural for the two of them to grow close after spending so much time together, but getting attached to Zevran was dangerous – even moreso than simply having sex with him.

“I’ll keep it in mind.” He cracked a smile despite the foreboding feeling taking hold in his gut. “I’m surprised you’re so concerned for my wellbeing.”

She sniffed. “Should you perish, Alistair would be the sole remaining Grey Warden in all of Ferelden. Any chance of ending the Blight at that point would be slim.”

Callum let his disappointment show both on his face and in his slumped shoulders so strongly that not even Morrigan could ignore it. Indeed, after a few moments of silence, she sighed.

“And,” she continued, “I will concede that I am concerned for your welfare – partly – due to the fact that I have come to look upon you as...as a friend.”

Callum beamed broadly at her. “I appreciate your concern.”

She rolled her eyes, but Callum didn’t fail to notice the way the one corner of her mouth that was visible to him curled upwards.

“Don’t make me regret it,” she warned.

“I’ll keep an eye out in my breeches for spiders all the same,” he joked, and to his delight, Morrigan laughed – not a snide cackle, but a genuine, happy laugh.

“You are a peculiar and yet remarkably amusing man,” she told him.

“Does that mean you’ll finally tell me what’s been bothering you?”

Her expression fell at once. “You are,” she responded. “Your persistence would be charming were it not so irritating.”

“And here I’d thought I was ‘remarkably amusing’.”

She rolled her eyes. “If you truly wish to know, then I will tell you, if it will finally stop this line of questioning.” She exhaled out through her nose sharply. “I am...anxious.

Callum blinked. “Anxious, or nervous?”

“Is there a difference?”

“I read something in a book long ago: the word ‘nervous’ means ‘worried about something’ – you might feel nervous, for instance, if Alistair served stew for dinner, because you would be worried that it would taste awful. Whereas the word ‘anxious’ means ‘troubled by disturbing suspense’, which you might feel if a darkspawn barged into our camp.”

“I believe I would feel anxious should Alistair serve almost anything for dinner,” she drily remarked. “But I’m not afraid, if that’s what you’re insinuating.”

“I’m not. But what is it that you’re anxious over?”

“I...” She swallowed. Callum saw how her knees were held closely against her chest, as though huddling for warmth. “It’s about Denerim. I have never been to a city so large. Small towns or villages pose little danger to one such as I. But ‘tis difficult to flee from any potential foes when one is surrounded by...people.”

“There’s some truth in that. Plenty of people are nervous around crowds.”

“I am not some frightened little girl who will fall pathetically into a templar trap,” she said, voice like iron. “‘Tis...foolish for me to fret so.”

“Not at all,” Callum said, only for Morrigan to shoot him a glare.

“That is a mere platitude. What sense is there in being afraid of something one knows nothing about?”

“Emotions don’t always make sense,” he told her. “Did Flemeth never teach you that?”

Morrigan grumbled. “She taught me to shun petty emotions in favour of calm reason and logic.”

That explained a lot. “Flemeth may be wise, but nobody is infallible.”

Morrigan’s expression cracked into a reluctant smile. “She loves to think so, of course. But you’re indeed correct – particularly now that I have begun reading her grimoire. My thanks for that, once again.”

“You’re welcome.” Callum stretched his hands out behind his back, splaying them out on the ground and leaning back, tension easing out of his shoulders. “Have you found anything useful in it?”

“Nothing of note just yet,” she said, irritation plain in her tone. “Mother’s writing is insufferably vague. Yet, I shall persist. I will let you know once I have uncovered anything worthwhile.”

“Thanks. And, if it makes you feel any better, I’m nervous with regard to Denerim as well. The last time I was in a major city was...a long time ago.”

“When you were ripped away from your family, no doubt.”

Callum’s eyes fluttered shut. “Yes...”

“Not a pleasant memory, I am sure.”

“Not at all.” Quickly deciding to change the topic, he carried on. “Do you remember that story you told me of how you stole a mirror from a noblewoman?”

“And what of it?”

“You’d sneaked into a town when you did that, right?”

Morrigan gave him a shrewd look. “It was a small settlement – scarcely larger than a village. Nothing at all like Denerim.”

“Well, if you managed that when you were so young, I’m sure you could handle Denerim now that you’re all grown up.”

She sighed. “That story did not end so happily for me, as I’m sure you recall.”

“Flemeth has no hold on your life anymore,” he reminded her.

“I wouldn’t be so sure...” She stretched her arms above her head, and Callum pointedly looked away from all the bare skin that was suddenly displayed. If Morrigan noticed, and she most likely did, she passed no comment. “‘Tis late. Don’t you have an assassin to be rutting with?”

“I wouldn’t say ‘rutting’,” Callum muttered, getting to his feet all the same as he received the hint that it was his time to leave.

“I don’t want to know what you call it,” she shot back, unable to avoid smiling at him as she did. “I will see you again on the morrow.”

“Goodnight, Morrigan.” He turned and left the campfire behind him, making his way back to his tent at long last.

 

 

Callum opened his eyes to the gentle green light of the Fade, skies swimming before him like whirlpools in a pond. At first, he was immediately struck with a sense of relief that he wasn’t in the throes of another darkspawn-related nightmare – which had been even more regular after the horrific events at the Circle. But a dawning sense of dread began to grip him as he sat up and looked around, not recognising his surroundings. Whenever he awoke in the Fade, he would always find himself in the same location – a space he had carved out for himself, as most mages would do. But there was nothing familiar about the view around him now.

“So good to see you again...”

The words called out to him in a deep, chilling voice he recognised with a pained jolt. Turning his head, he caught sight of the being who had spoken – a handsome young man in apprentice robes, smiling fondly at Callum as though he were an old friend.

Mouse. No, not “Mouse” – that was a made-up name. A made-up identity. This was a demon of Pride.

“What are you doing here?” Callum demanded, sitting up straight and folding his arms tightly across his chest.

Me?” The demon let out a quiet chuckle. “Why, you invited me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I did no such thing.”

“You gave in to the lure of blood magic,” the demon said. “You are now a beacon of sorts for our kind.”

Callum took another glance at his surroundings, seeing no other figures around them. “Then how come you’re the only one here?”

“They fear me,” the demon explained. “I am far more powerful than any mere creature of Rage or Hunger. Even Desire quails beneath Pride – much like the demon who gave you the knowledge of blood magic did.” It spread its arms wide as though seeking an embrace. “I’ve staked a claim on you ever since your Harrowing. None would dare cross me...just as none would dare cross you, should you accept me.”

Callum scoffed. “Of course. I didn’t think we’d get to the ‘possession’ talk so soon. You could at least buy me dinner or give me a backrub first.”

“That can be arranged.”

And although the demons didn’t budge from where it sat, Callum felt a pair of hands grasp hold of his shoulders and begin digging their thumbs into his upper back. It took all of his strength not to cry out in alarm, and undoubtedly the demon had noticed his flinch all the same. Callum turned his head sharply to look behind him, finding nobody there.

“You’re resilient,” the demon said, as Callum faced it again. “But I know what is it you could be – who you could be, with me by your side.”

“You don’t know a thing about me.”

“No? Here in the Fade, I can see all your regrets; did you do everything you could have done to save Jowan?” Callum watched as the demon’s handsome face twisted into one more plain, its hair changing to a dark black as its head morphed into Jowan’s. Almost immediately, it transformed into another face – a young woman’s. “Or Lily, for that matter? If Feyren had been in your place, would he still be alive?” Now the demon’s ears turned pointed and its skin turned dark as it took on Feyren’s appearance. “If you had visited the elves sooner, could you have saved them from the werewolves’ curse? Would Danyla still be with her husband?” The gentle elven face abruptly sprouted hair and fur, nose twisting into a snout and eyes turning feral. “And what of the people of Lothering? Alistair wanted to stay and help them fend off the darkspawn, but you refused.” The werewolf face shrank down into another, more human face, hair turning dark again, and Callum’s insides turned cold as the long-forgotten face took shape.

“And, as for your mother...”

“Stop.” Callum’s hands balled up into fists, squeezing his upper arms painfully tight. “Don’t you dare talk about her.”

The demon’s eyes fluttered shut as its face fell into an expression resembling remorse, immediately reverting back into the form he had taken during Callum’s Harrowing. “Of course. I seem to have crossed a line I should not have. I apologise.” It paused, and Callum could have sworn he could sense it counting the exact number of seconds it deemed necessary for a meaningful silence. “But think of the trials ahead of you. There could be so much more pain and sorrow in your future. With my strength added to yours, nothing and no one could stand in your way. Why not take every precaution to avoid more regrets?”

“Becoming an abomination would be my greatest regret,” Callum assured it, not even trying to hide his anger anymore.

The demon sighed. “Are you certain? Think of the possibilities. There is more to you than just regret, of course.”

The demon stood, and Callum blinked as its clothes seemed to melt away, revealing the naked form of Zevran. Only it was different from usual – Callum had seen the Antivan naked enough times to know that the real Zevran wasn’t quite so muscled, or well-endowed. Zevran’s face grinned, and the demon’s voice issued out from between those lips Callum had kissed so often. “Just think of what – or rather, who – could be yours if you were to accept me.”

The demon stepped forward, growing in size again as it took on Alistair’s appearance. This time, too, was different: this version of Alistair was more handsome than the reality, and toned muscles bulged where Callum knew there was really bulk. Another step, and now the demon was Morrigan. Another, and it was Leliana. Callum hadn’t seen either of the two women naked, but he knew that neither of them had breasts or hips quite so large.

“I’m honestly quite hurt that you think this is how I view my friends,” Callum told the demon.

The demon smirked as its face turned into yet another’s Callum recognised from so long ago – a roguishly-handsome man with ginger hair and a stubble-covered jaw. “Isn’t it? I may not be a desire demon, but I have seen what it is you covet all the same. What you want could be yours, you know, and much, much more. For a small price...”

“Forget it,” Callum said sharply. “I won’t let you possess me. You can try and tempt me all you want, Mouse. Or should I even call you that?”

The demon smiled wickedly as it reverted back to the form of the apprentice, robes and all. “Call me whatever you wish. I’ve taken this appearance because it’s one you’re more comfortable with.”

“You wouldn’t want me to feel uncomfortable, I suppose,” Callum drily grumbled.

“Of course not. I want us to be friends, you and I. We could have a marvellous future together.”

“Leave me the fuck alone.”

Mouse sighed. “Very well. I shall leave you be, for now.” It reached out a hand and, although there was still some distance between them, rested it impossibly on Callum’s shoulder. “We will be seeing each other again very soon, I imagine. Think over my offer.”

There was a lurch as Callum jolted awake, grunting in surprise as he came back to the real world. The air inside the tent was chill against the thin layer of sweat now coating his skin, sticking to the blanket covering him. He blinked his eyes blearily open to see another pair staring back, and felt the body pressing against his shift slightly.

Zevran mumbled his name quietly. “A nightmare?”

Callum relaxed, pushing away all thoughts of demons for the time being. “Yes. I’m alright, don’t worry.”

Zevran’s eyes closed again, but Callum felt the pair of arms wrapped around his waist squeeze him tighter for a brief moment. Callum smiled, trying not to think too deeply about the rush of warmth in his chest at the sensation.

Sleep wasn’t far off, but Callum wasn't sure if that was a blessing or a curse. He didn’t know which he feared more – darkspawn or demons. Mouse’s words lingered in his ears even after leaving the Fade behind.

“We could have a marvellous future together...”

He didn’t want to think about it, but the idea of joining a demon’s power to his own really was tempting. But the memory of the twisted, unfeeling monster Uldred had become after his possession gave him pause. A moment of weakness, Callum knew, and he could become just the same. This was the price to pay for turning to blood magic. If it was for the sake of Ferelden, and all the innocent people who lived there, Callum believed he could endure.

He had to.

Chapter Text

The morning of the day they walked into Denerim was cool and frosty, and every member of their little group was more than looking forward to finally spending the evening somewhere warm and dry. Wynne had begun to complain every so often of the way the cold weather made her old bones ache, and Callum was rather beginning to feel as though the complaints were being directed at him, as though he somehow had control over the climate. Even Barkspawn was beginning to tire of the cold, and had had to be removed from Callum’s tent more and more regularly. Suffice to say, there was no small amount of quiet enthusiasm once the walls of Ferelden’s capital came into view.

The city was bustling, to say the least. The narrow streets were packed with people of all ages, and children raced between the adults’ long legs, giggling and laughing as they played their games, masks adorning their tiny faces.

“‘Tis rather more noise than I was expecting,” Morrigan said, suppressing a wince as one of the more clumsy children crashed into her legs, before darting around her to catch up with their friends. “I knew Denerim was a busy place, but this is a bit much.”

Leliana seemed much more at ease in the city streets. Indeed she was smiling fondly at the crowds thronging around them. “In Val Royeaux, every day is like this. The streets are rather more large and finely-paved, of course.”

“Denerim isn’t Val Royeaux,” Alistair pointed out, before blinking in surprise as something evidently occurred to him. “Hold on...does anyone know what the date is?”

Callum frowned as he thought. “The date? I don’t know exactly, but it’s sometime near the end of Harvestmere, isn’t it?”

“Unless it’s the start of Firstfall, instead.” Alistair grinned as he pointed to one of the children running by, a brightly-painted mask attached to their head. “Which would make today...”

“Satinalia!” Leliana enthused, her smile matching Alistair’s. “What excellent timing!”

“Is this some sort of festival?” Morrigan asked, her tone indicating that she dreaded the answer already.

“It’s a celebration of the coming of winter,” Callum explained. “There’s masks, dancing, merriment...”

“Music and feasting,” Alistair added cheerfully.

“And alcohol,” Callum finished, trying not to grin at the way Morrigan’s face grew more and more sour with every word.

“I shall count myself lucky that we are far too busy to partake in these festivities.”

Alistair and Leliana’s expressions sank in unison.

“Of course,” Alistair muttered. “I know we came here for a reason, but...”

“‘But’ nothing,” Morrigan cut him off. “We are here to find that Chantry brother and learn what he knows of the Urn of Sacred Ashes.”

“And I still have to track down Marjolaine,” Leliana murmured in a guilty voice. “With all the commotion, I lost focus.”

“The bas-saarebas has a point,” Sten grumbled. For all the hubbub happening around them as the city prepared for the festival, no one dared to draw near the towering qunari. “The Blight will not wait while the bas dance and revel.”

“You shall call me ‘Morrigan’,” the witch replied, “or not at all.”

Sten grunted, but didn’t respond.

“And I want to visit Goldanna,” Alistair said. “You know – that long lost sister I mentioned a while back? She lives around here. At least, I think she does.”

“You want to go today?” Callum asked.

“Well, why not today? People usually spend Satinalia with their families, after all.” He hesitated. “Although, maybe it wouldn’t be such a great time. I heard she remarried – probably has plenty of kids, too. She could be busy. I wouldn’t want to barge into their festivities unannounced. I could go another day, I suppose...”

“Forgive me for saying so,” Zevran began, “but am I correct in thinking that Satinalia celebrations in Ferelden last only for a day and a night?”

“Is that not how things are done in Antiva?” Leliana asked.

“Goodness, no!” Zevran chuckled and shook his head. “Why, in my homeland, Satinalia celebrations last for a week or more! There is wine and spirits, feasts upon feasts...”

“Orgies?” Callum prompted knowingly.

Zevran winked at him. “For those so inclined.”

Morrigan arched an eyebrow at Zevran. “Your point being?”

“Well, I merely think that – relatively speaking, of course – a mere day of merriment surely wouldn’t go amiss?”

“He’s not wrong,” Alistair muttered. “We’ve come all the way across Ferelden, travelling nonstop. We could use a...well, a break.”

Morrigan rolled her eyes. “If we let mere fatigue get the better of us, what hope do we have against the Blight?”

But Callum had folded his arms tightly, his face settling into an expression of determination. “Alistair and Zevran are right. Warden, mage, elf, or qunari - we’re only mortal. Everyone needs their rest sometime. I say we stay for Satinalia.”

Sten’s eyes narrowed. “This is foolishness. Do you know how far the horde could advance in just a day?”

“But if we don’t take a chance to rest when we can,” Callum said, “we may not have the strength to fight the horde when the time comes. Haste can often lead to waste.”

Sten’s eyes shut as he grumbled quietly. “Even the mightiest warrior requires a reprieve on occasion, it is true.” He opened his eyes once more to cast a disdainful look at the crowds around them. “But this...excess is far from a 'reprieve'.”

“Spend the day training if you like. But everyone who wants to take part in the celebrations may do so. That’s an order.”

Morrigan sighed with a great deal of irritation. “Very well. I can see there is no convincing you.” She half-pushed her way through the throngs of people, not glancing back at them as she went off on her own.

“What a pain,” Alistair grunted.

“Leave her be, Al,” Callum told him, a sharp edge in his voice. “We need to find the inn we’ll be staying at. After that, I’ll go with you to find your sister, if you want?”

Alistair blinked, before nodding hurriedly. “Oh, yes. Please. If you can, I mean. Lots to do today, I know. Busy!” He swallowed. “Right. Let’s go.”

Callum shook his head in both exasperation and amusement as they made their way through the thick crowds, heading for the centre of town.

 

 

The door swung open against Callum’s back as Zevran pushed him firmly through it, their lips never separating as they entered the bedroom. Using nimble footwork, Zevran managed to shut the door behind them before guiding Callum towards the bed. Callum let the smaller man move him without resisting in the slightest, his knees buckling when the back of them hit the edge of the soft mattress and he practically collapsed onto the sheets, groaning intensely as the entire room swayed.

Zevran grinned down at him, eyebrows raised. “I haven’t even done anything more than kiss you yet, and already you’re making so much noise.”

Callum shook his head wearily. “It’s not that. Don’t get me wrong – I’m enjoying it, but I’m very tired.”

Alistair hadn’t been wrong earlier – between buying their rooms at the inn, visiting Goldanna, confronting Marjolaine, getting and gifting presents for everyone before the shops closed and then finally allowing himself to join in the festivities, Callum had been kept on his feet the entire day. Alistair’s meeting with his sister hadn’t gone as well as either of them had hoped, and Marjolaine had had a few unpleasant surprises in preparation for Leliana’s inevitable arrival. In short, Callum was exhausted.

Zevran chuckled, letting go of Callum and dropping down on his hunkers. He was out of sight of the Warden, who was staring up at the ceiling, but who felt the immense relief all the same as a pair of hands removed the boots from his feet.

“Thank you, Zev,” Callum mumbled breathily, groaning again and squirming slightly atop the bed, still dizzy with drunkenness.

“You really do sound as though you’re getting off,” the Antivan pointed out.

“Maybe I am.”

“We’ve only just begun,” Zevran promised, appearing in Callum’s field of vision once more to plant another kiss on his mouth, the strong scent of alcohol on his breath. “But perhaps we should wait until your strength comes back to proceed any further? The night is still young, after all.”

Callum had lost track of time at some point after the ale had begun flowing, but he was quite sure it was around midnight – maybe even later. Fortunately, being a Grey Warden still had its perks – it wouldn’t be long before his strength returned. “I can wait. Besides, I have something important to give you.” He paused, before cracking a smile. “Something other than what you’re thinking.”

“Well, if it’s from you, I am always happy to receive.” Zevran’s lips lingered against Callum’s jaw, skin tingling pleasantly under the kiss. Once Callum was freed from the man’s tight grasp, he began fishing around in his bag. He withdrew a set of leather straps attached to a small, round ball, and held it out to Zevran.

“Happy Satinalia!”

Zevran tittered with amusement as he took the object out of Callum’s hands. “Is this a gag?”

“It sure is.”

“Ah, but isn’t it you who always makes the most noise when we’re in bed together?” Zevran grinned knowingly at him. “I have a feeling this was a present more intended for you than for me.”

Callum laughed along as he reached back into the bag. “I had a feeling you’d say that, so I got you these as well.” And he placed a pair of elegantly-crafted leather gloves into the Antivan’s outstretched hands.

Zevran’s mouth fell open in surprise. “These...these are Dalish-made?”

Callum nodded, heart swelling slightly as he took in Zevran’s reaction. “I might’ve cheated a little bit by buying them ages ago from the Dalish – before I met you, even. We never really made use of them, but I held onto them just in case. Once you told me that story about your mother, I knew I had to give them to you. Sorry for holding onto them for so long-”

Callum’s words were cut off when Zevran flung his arms around his shoulders in a tight hug. He felt heat rising in his face as he swallowed, taken aback by the display of emotion and gratitude.

“I...thought they’d make a good Satinalia present,” he finished quietly.

“You were right.” Zevran’s voice was muffled from having his face pressed into Callum’s shoulder. “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome.” Callum rubbed his back awkwardly, not fully sure what to do with himself. Zevran had kissed him far too many times to count, but he didn’t think they’d ever held each other like this – not when they’d still had their clothes on, at any rate. After another few moments had passed, he felt Zevran stiffen and pull away.

“You...you presented the others with gifts too, didn’t you?”

Callum blinked at the unusual question. “Well, yes, I did. It’s Satinalia.”

Oddly enough, his answer seemed to bring Zevran some relief – the tension visibly seeped out of his shoulders and his eyes brightened.

“Of course. This is what friends do, yes?”

“Well, I gave Wynne a present, too.” Callum made a face. “I wouldn’t call her a ‘friend’, exactly.”

Zevran laughed, and it was suddenly as though the hug had never happened. “What did you give her? A live snake? A jar of manure?”

Callum chuckled. “Not quite. I got her a book full of Ferelden folksongs.”

“Wynne rather enjoys books, doesn’t she?”

“She does. But the main song listed in the book is Andraste’s Mabari, which all the most faithful people hate.”

“Really? Why is that? I can’t say I’m familiar with the tune.”

“It’s one of the most popular songs in Ferelden pubs,” Callum explained, “but the Chantry decries it as blasphemous. The song claims that the Maker’s Bride had a mabari companion – like Barkspawn – who followed her everywhere and was by her side when she led the First Exalted March against the Imperium.”

“Aha! And the Chantry doesn’t like people telling stories of Andraste besides the ones in the Chant.” Zevran snickered. “How did she respond?”

“Well, if she ever reads it, I’m sure she’ll let us know. Surprisingly, she had a present for me, too.”

“Oh? What was it?”

“Another songbook.” Callum rolled his eyes. “A copy of the Canticle of Threnodies.”

“Perhaps not so surprising, after all.”

Callum sighed. “She’ll never change, that’s for sure.”

“What other presents did you get?”

Callum opened up his bag and began taking out numerous objects. “Well, Sten didn’t get me anything – the qunari don’t observe Satinalia, of course. But he did appreciate the cookies I bought for him.”

Zevran barked a laugh. “I still find it so difficult to imagine that old warrior enjoying baked treats.”

“I’ve never seen him actually eat one,” Callum told him, “but he assures me they’re delicious, all the same. Anyway, it was the same story with Morrigan, unfortunately, although she thanked me for the silver brooch I gave her. I found an ornate runestone for Alistair, and he gave me this...” Callum held up a round, black orb, the surface of which was dotted here and there with numerous white stars. “...in return. It’s a skyball – ever heard of them?”

“I have,” Zevran said, reaching out to take hold of the orb. “Although I’ve never seen one in person. It’s supposed to be a map of the night sky, correct?”

“Yeah.” Callum prodded the skyball’s surface with his index finger. “You can see the Maiden here – Bellatanis, you northerners would probably call it. Or Fenrir – the White Wolf – next to it.”

“It’s beautifully crafted,” Zevran remarked.

“Meanwhile, I spotted some wildflowers growing near the Alienage that looked like ones Leliana had described to me before, so I picked them and gave them to her for her present. She was overjoyed, although the fact that that business with Marjolaine is behind her now probably helped put her in a good mood. She gave me this gorgeous armband in return.” Callum rolled up his sleeve to reveal a golden bangle covered in intricate runes. “Maker knows where she found it.”

“As mysterious and yet resourceful as ever, that Leliana.”

“Did she give you anything for Satinalia?”

“I’m afraid not,” Zevran said, shaking his head somewhat disappointedly. “Not even a chaste peck on the cheek. Of course, I haven’t seen much of Leliana – or any of the others, for that matter – at all this evening.”

“Too busy celebrating?”

Zevran grinned. “What else does one do on such a sacred occasion? I had the fortune of meeting a rather tall, rugged farmer from the Bannorn who let me have a swig from his hip flask – let me tell you, it’s a miracle I was still able to stand afterwards. I asked if I could kiss him, but he turned me down, alas.”

Callum edged closer to him on the bed. “Who was that person you were speaking to when I found you?”

“Ah, a very charming woman – from Amaranthine, I believe. I didn’t catch her name. She was in the process of inviting back to her room at an inn near the Alienage before you arrived.”

“And you refused her?” Callum was incredulous.

“I...intended to spend the night with you, instead.”

Callum’s heartbeat sounded like wardrums in his ears.

“I...oh. I wouldn’t have minded,” he added hurriedly. “I don’t doubt you could have fit us both in, for want of a better term.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Zevran said with a shrug. “Should I have invited her here instead? This bed is rather roomy for just the two of us...”

Callum grumbled as he sank into said bed, feeling heat rising in his face and a sudden strain on the front of his breeches. “You should know better than to tease me like that.”

Zevran’s breath was warm against his neck. “Perhaps another time, mi amigo. For now...”

Callum moaned softly as Zevran’s lips brushed against the tender skin below his jaw, hands tugging at his clothes. “H-Hold on...”

Zevran let go at once. “Hmm?”

“I need to take a bath,” Callum said. “Do you know how long it’s been since I actually bathed? Not in a river or a stream, I mean. I imagine you’re in the same boat.”

It was probably the only thing Callum missed from the Circle: being able to bathe regularly. Of course, as with everything in the Circle, bathing was strictly overseen by the templars. Even Harrowed mages were only allowed to bathe at designated times, in groups of up to a dozen at once, for no more than ten minutes at a time. Supposedly, senior enchanters were the only ones with private baths for each individual. One more injustice to be embittered by.

“You may be right,” Zevran admitted. “I take it you’ve booked us a room in an inn that has bathing facilities?”

Callum grinned as he jerked his head towards the door on the far side of the bed. “Even better – I booked us a room with an ensuite.”

Zevran grinned right back. “Then, by all means – lead the way!”

 

 

Callum threw his head back and groaned as he sank into the bath, aching muscles instantly soothed by the hot water. Steam filled his nose as he inhaled, intoxicating him as much as the ale had. His naked skin tingled in response to the gentle heat, drawing a blissful sigh from his mouth.

“Honestly, Zev,” he called to the man still disrobing in the bedroom, “if you weren’t here I’d probably fuck this bath instead.”

Laughter accompanied Zevran’s entrance to the bathroom, his smooth body bared and tattoos on full display. “I must confess, in all my years, I don’t believe I’ve ever had sex with a bath.”

The sight of Zevran’s naked form, coupled with the sheer bliss of the hot water against his body, meant that Callum was already fully hard. He resisted the urge to begin stroking himself as Zevran lifted up a leg and sat on the edge of the bathtub.

In a bath – yes,” Zevran continued. “Next to a bath, or bent over a bath – yes. But with a bath?”

“There’s a first time for everything,” Callum said, watching hungrily as Zevran stepped into the tub, standing over him.

“You may be right.” Zevran bent his knees as he sank down to straddle the Warden. “I, however, have a better idea in mind.”

The feeling of Zevran’s smooth, toned body pressing against him, lips warm and hungry, was even better than the bath. Callum threw his arms around him, pushing all thoughts of bathing to the back of his mind as he retunred the kiss. He spread his legs wider, allowing Zevran to settle between his thighs, relishing the sensation of the muscled thighs sitting atop his own. He took hold of Zevran’s ass with both hands, squeezing it tight, grunting with pleasure as Zevran pushed in closer to him, rubbing against the sensitive underside of his cock. He made to push against him in turn, only for the smaller man to pull away, leaving Callum grumbling with frustration and need.

“Patience...” Zevran grinned, clearly thrilled by the effect his teasing was having on Callum. He leaned back and swept his vision over the Warden’s naked form. “I daresay you’ve changed since I first met you; you’ve gained some muscle.”

“And why wouldn’t I? I’ve been fighting and marching for leagues almost every day since then.” Callum knew full-well it was more likely the darkspawn taint in his blood that had altered his body so rapidly – not that he could tell Zevran as much.

A cheeky smirk tugged at Zevran’s mouth as he ran his hands down Callum’s front, tracing the recently-formed bulges and grooves. “When I saw you out of your armour for the first time, I was stunned by how small you were. I’d gotten the impression during our clash that you and Alistair were the same size.”

Callum decided to ignore the jab at his previous shape. “I suppose my plan to make the enemy think I was a warrior worked?”

“It did on me.” Zevran’s thumb wriggled against Callum’s nipple, with the Warden resisting the involuntary urge to squirm against him in response. “Looking at you now, almost anyone would mistake you for a warrior.”

Callum raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?”

“Maybe one a touch on the wiry side.” Zevran squeezed Callum’s pectorals with his hand, making him give in at last as he lurched forward and tugged Zevran’s body firmly against him, groaning with desire.

“You better stop teasing me right now, or else I really will show you my warrior side.”

He felt Zevran’s cock press harder against him. “Oh? I believe I’d rather enjoy that.”

Callum raised his hips as he began thrusting against Zevran. “Yeah?”

“V-Very much so...” Zevran gasped and screwed his eyes shut as their entwined bodies began to slip and slide against each other beneath the water. “Ohhh...”

Words were lost to them as their lips met again, hips bucking in unison as they grinded together, hands clutching onto one another’s bodies and squeezing tight. So worked up as they both were, addled by drink and by heat, it was over far sooner than either of them would have expected. Zevran finished first, tossing his head back and letting out a delighted shout, spending himself enthusiastically against Callum’s abdomen. Callum’s fingers sank into Zevran’s shoulders as he crested only a few moments later, his answering cry of ecstasy swallowed by the Antivan’s soft mouth. The two of them were left in the warm bathwater, still quivering slightly against each other, as their pulses began to slow down again.

“Good?” Callum mumbled into his ear after a few long, peaceful moments of silence.

“Quite,” Zevran answered, releasing his hold on Callum to stretch himself out like a cat awakening from a nap. “Over rather sooner than I would have liked, maybe.”

Callum pressed his forehead against Zevran’s. “Don’t worry. I’m more than happy to go for another round after our bath.”

Zevran snickered as he gestured lazily towards the cloud of white bathwater floating between them. “You still want to bathe in this?”

“I’m going to draw another,” Callum promised, reaching out to grab the side of the bathtub as he made to clamber out. “I can heat up the water with my magic, but there won’t be any fooling around until we get back to bed.”

Zevran pouted. “And if I can’t wait that long...?”

“Then I’ll just have to make you wait, won’t I?” Callum eyes flashed at him, making Zevran shudder with excitement.

“I don’t say this often, mi amigo,” Zevran said as he stepped out of the bath, “but I am so very lucky.”

Callum winked at him as he pulled the plug, letting the water begin to drain. “Not every day you get to take a luxury bath with a handsome Grey Warden, I suppose?”

Zevran chuckled. “More often than you’d think. Antiva City has some of the most luxurious baths in all of Thedas. There are all kinds of oils, scented balms and herbs – more than I could possibly name. And the baths draw quite the crowd: there were always plenty of handsome warriors more than willing to have some company while they bathed, some of them likely Grey Wardens. I met more than a few marks in there who were caught off-guard when the slender little elf they’d spent some alone time with in a private room drew a dagger on them.”

Callum shook his head in bemusement. “I swear, Zev, every story you tell ends with you either having sex or killing someone. Usually both.”

“Would you expect anything less?”

“Not at all.” There was a pause as Callum began to draw the next bath. “You really miss Antiva, don’t you?”

Zevran sighed and gave a slight shrug. “It is merely homesickness; it will pass. After all, if I were in Antiva right now, I would probably be dead. And being alive in a shithole like Ferelden is better than being dead anywhere.”

“You’re probably right,” Callum said in response, turning the tap and allowing more hot water to flow. “Well, if the Blight or the archdemon don’t kill me, I’d love to visit it someday.”

“What, Antiva?”

“Of course. Is that a problem?”

“You aren’t worried the Crows will find you easier prey in their homeland?”

“Once Loghain is dealt with, the contract will be null and void, right?”

Zevran cracked a humourless smile. “I am afraid not, my friend. A contract, even one on a person’s life, is still a contract. It won’t be ‘null and void’, as you say, until it has been carried out. It’s the same in Antiva as it is in Orlais.”

Callum swallowed. “Right. Well...that’s something to think about, I suppose.”

A warm hand stroked his back, gentle fingers trailing down his spine. “We can– that is, you can worry about these things later. For now, I believe we have a bath to take, yes?”

Callum smiled at him, taking hold of his wrist. “You’re right.” With one fluid movement, he snatched Zevran’s other wrist in his free hand and held them both together over the man’s head. “You first.”

Zevran grinned with a mixture of pride and exhilaration as he climbed back into the tub.

Chapter Text

It was cold. No matter how close Callum shifted towards the campfire, there was no fending off the chill that seemed to have sunk deep into his bones. As the days had drifted by since leaving Denerim, the temperature had dropped further and further as midwinter approached. Worse still, the change in the weather had naturally brought plenty of snow with it, which had only hampered the party’s journey back west across Ferelden. By the time they’d passed through Redcliffe again, it had been over three weeks since they’d left Denerim. By now, it was nearing the start of Haring, and the year’s end was drawing ever closer. Callum had tried to reassure himself with the fact that the darkspawn horde was likely as hindered by the snowfall as they were, and Alistair had liked to joke that the darkspawn hibernated during the winter. The occasional encounter they’d had along the journey with small, vicious bands of darkspawn proved the Warden’s joke to be just that, however.

Callum blew air between his hands and rubbed them together, trying desperately to produce heat. Even Zevran’s body sitting next to his, their arms wrapped loosely around each other, didn’t help as much as it usually did. Everyone was huddled around the fire, hoping to warm their tired, frozen forms before turning in for the night. Even Morrigan had eventually given up on her own campfire and joined theirs, although not without a few disgruntled glares and determined silences. They were fortunate to have found some modicum of shelter underneath a rocky outcropping, jutting away from a small cliff face at the base of the Frostbacks. Tomorrow, they would begin their ascent, making for the village of Haven, nestled somewhere in the mountains above. Hopefully there, they would at last find Brother Genetivi.

Minutes and hours slipped past them as they sat around the fire, sipping whiskey that Wynne had warmed with magic (“To be drunk in moderation!” she’d warned as she’d passed the flask around). Conversation was light and spirits were damp, and Callum was more than thankful when Leliana sat up and announced that it was time for a story.

“This is a tale we used to tell when I was a girl growing up in Orlais,” she told them. “It’s about a poor young peasant who falls in love with a handsome royal.”

“How breathtakingly original,” Morrigan drawled.

“Once upon a time,” Leliana declared, ignoring Morrigan’s comment, “there lived a pretty young Orlesian fellow named ‘Eric’. Although he was fair and beautiful, kind and gentle, he lived a cruel and difficult life.

“Eric’s father had been a good, loving man, but after the death of his wife, he had married another woman who had great wealth and beauty. This woman was vicious and cruel to her new step-son, as were her two daughters by blood. Often, they would tease and bully Eric, and his step-mother would force him to do chores night and day – constantly cleaning the château from top to bottom and scrubbing the fireplace clean. After Eric’s father died, his step-family had no reason to hide their mistreatment of him, which began to grow even worse by the day. Eric’s clothes grew stained and worn, coated with cinders from the fireplace he so often was made to clean. His step-sisters began calling him ‘Asheric’ as a petty, malicious nickname. Every night, Asheric would cry himself to sleep, miserable and alone, wishing desperately that his torment would end.

“One day, word came to the family home that the emperor was holding a very special masquerade ball in the Winter Palace of Halamshiral – one that his son, a young prince, would also be attending. The rumours claimed that the prince was searching for someone to take as his spouse, and Asheric’s step-mother was keen that one of her daughters be that very woman to marry the future emperor of Orlais. Asheric also wished to attend, and began sowing himself a lovely garment for the ball. Of course, it was not long before his family discovered the boy’s ambitions. Asheric’s step-mother forced him to watch as her daughters tore the suit apart, laughing all the while. The suit, and Asheric’s dreams, were left in tatters.

“But hope was not yet lost. As Asheric wept on the floor, alone in the château after his step-family had departed for Halamshiral, a bright light appeared in the garden, just outside his bedroom window. He crept downstairs and outside, where the light shaped itself into the form of a beautiful woman.

‘I am a spirit of hope,’ it told him. ‘I have seen your dreams, young Eric, and I will grant you what you need to ensure that your greatest wish will be yours.’

“And, without him even saying ‘Please’, the spirit bestowed upon Asheric a most beautiful suit and coat, spun from the finest silvery silk, with a matching mask and slippers made from halla fur. It plucked a potato from the earth and turned it into a resplendent carriage, then turned a pair of nearby birds into griffons with which to pull the carriage. Thanking the spirit for all it had done for him, the carriage took to the skies, making for Halamshiral.

“Asheric arrived just in time for the ball, where the entirety of the upper-echelons of the Orlesian nobility were enthralled by the handsome and mysterious stranger in the silver coat, including the prince himself. Their dance atop the marble floors of the Winter Palace left the court spellbound – that it, with the exception of Asheric’s step-mother and step-sisters. Although they did not recognise their hated family member in his mask and finery, they understood that he was a grave threat to their aspirations. And so, when the prince and Asheric were parted for a few minutes, the wicked step-mother seized her chance. She attempted to murder Asheric with a knife she had concealed in her ballgown, but the lucky Asheric managed to overpower her and escape. He fled the palace, fearing for his life, and escaped back to his home in his flying carriage once more. What he hadn’t realised in his panic, however, was that he had left one of his slippers behind on the steps of the palace. The prince, seeing the handsome young man in flight, had given chase, only to find the lost slipper the only trace left of the man who had so entranced him at the ball.

“When Asheric returned home, all of the gifts the spirit of hope had bestowed upon him vanished, save for the single slipper he still had. His step-mother and step-sisters returned to the château the next day, embittered further still by their unsuccessful attempts at wooing the prince. Their treatment of Asheric worsened yet again, but he held onto the hope the spirit had given him – the greatest gift of all. He knew that he would see the prince once again; their love for one another was too strong to tear them apart.

“And, to his delight, the prince arrived on the château doorstep a mere week later. He had been travelling all over the Dales in search of the mysterious man who had enchanted him that night at the ball, and had brought with him the lost slipper: he would search across Orlais for the owner of the other slipper, which would match the one he held, and would bring that man back to the palace to be wed immediately. While Asheric’s step-mother protested that there were no men living in their home, Asheric made his presence known to the prince, and presented him with the second slipper. Determining that the two slippers were indeed a match, the prince kissed his beloved on the cheek, and carried him to his carriage, where they began the long trip back to Halamshiral. There, the two men were wed, and they both lived happily ever after.”

Leliana clapped her hands together with an air of finality. “Fin! The end!”

“Thank you, Leliana,” Callum said. “That was a lovely story.”

“Bit on the predictable side, mind you,” Alistair commented.

“I thought it was horridly boring,” Morrigan said, arms folded as she fixed Leliana with an unamused look. “Not to mention highly improbable. That ‘spirit of hope’ was more than likely a desire demon that sought to possess the young man’s body.”

Leliana met the witch’s glare with a smile. “In truth, I have heard many variations of the story I have just told; some of them do indeed have the spirit be revealed as a demon that Asheric makes a deal with in return for power and a chance at the throne. That is the beauty of stories – no two telling are the same.”

Morrigan pursed her lips, but passed no further comment.

“In any case,” the former bard went on, “I believe it is someone else’s turn to tell a story.”

Alistair blinked. “What? You’re the storyteller here, aren’t you? Why does one of us have to come up with something, as well?”

“It’s like a game, Alistair,” she explained patiently. “We each tell a story – anything you like – and grow closer in the telling. It may also help distract us from this awful weather.”

Callum grinned as an idea popped into his head, and he eagerly sat up straight. “I’ve got one. Who wants to hear it?”

Leliana flashed him a warm smile. “Go ahead, Callum.”

“This is a story I heard growing up in Kirkwall. Long ago, there was a rich Nevarran nobleman, who lived in a big, fancy manor in Cumberland. He had great wealth, which he flaunted at every opportunity. But there was one thing he loved more than his own riches – his sweet, beautiful wife. She cared for her husband greatly, but she was terribly frail, and often fell ill. Her husband, in his magnanimousness, showered his ailing wife with gifts in an effort to ease her pain. But, in the end, she succumbed to her illness and died. The funeral was a lavish affair, as befitting the wife of such a wealthy and influential man. The late wife’s body was entombed in her family’s crypt, and-”

“Crypt?” Alistair echoed in confusion.

Zevran leaned towards him and muttered an explanation. “In Nevarra, they do not cremate their dead. They place the corpse in a tomb, buried deep underground.”

Alistair shuddered. “That’s creepy.”

“You’re not wrong,” Callum said with a nod. “Anyway, the nobleman’s wife was buried in her family’s crypt, and her husband insisted – in a show of devotion and piety – that all the wondrous, expensive gifts he’d given her during her lifetime be buried with her. It was said to be one of the most beautiful tombs in all of Nevarra, fitting for a woman so deeply loved.

“But time does peculiar things to people. As the months, then years, drifted by, the nobleman’s memories of his dear departed wife began to fade. What didn’t wane over time, however, were his greed and his lust for wealth and splendour. He thought often, late at night in his bed, of all the jewels, the gold, and the fineries he had placed in his wife’s crypt. He tried to convince himself that his treasonous thoughts were understandable – ‘What if a wretched tomb-robber comes and deprives my beloved wife’s grave of its beauty?’ he wondered. ‘She wouldn’t want that,’ he thought. And so, in the dead of night, when all of Cumberland was still, he crept out of his manor and sneaked down into the tombs below the city...”

Leliana let out a dramatic gasp. “Oh, no! He didn’t-!”

“Oh, but he did. At first, it was only bits and pieces that he took from his wife’s tomb – a handful of gold here, some jars of incense there. Just enough to keep his mind at ease. But time went on, and on, and the nobleman’s mind never stopped thinking off all the riches in his wife’s crypt. He took the gold bracelet he’d given her when they’d begun courting. He took the diamond ring that had once adorned her slender fingers. He took the sapphire necklace that she had worn around her neck every day until she had passed away. Before too long, he had taken absolutely everything out of the tomb save for his wife’s emaciated corpse. ‘Finally,’ he thought, ‘I can rest easy, for I know that no tomb-robber could ever touch these precious things.’

“But that night, as the nobleman was lying comfortably in his soft, feather bed, just on the verge of drifting off to sleep, he heard a soft voice whispering from somewhere far, far away.

‘My dear husband,’ the voice whispered, ‘where is my precious gold bracelet?’

“A nervous smile tugged at the nobleman’s lips. ‘It’s down in the cold of the grave, my love,’ he replied, the lie coming to him as naturally as breathing.

“The voice whispered to him again – closer this time. ‘My dear husband, where is my beautiful diamond ring?’

“‘It’s down in the cold of the grave, my love,’ he responded again, feeling a twinge of fear in his gut.

“From just outside his bedroom door, the voice called to him again. ‘My dear husband, where is my prized sapphire necklace?’

“The nobleman swallowed down his panic. ‘It’s down in the cold of the grave, my love.’

“The voice was louder now than ever before: it sounded as though it was coming from somewhere in the room. ‘My dear husband, where are all of the wondrous gifts you gave me?’

“‘They’re down in the cold of the grave, my love,’ he whimpered, not daring to open his eyes.

“The voice – his wife’s voice – whispered softly into his ear. ‘My dear husband, where is my most treasured possession of all?’

“The nobleman’s mouth opened to speak, and he drew in a breath of stale, rotten air. He felt two cold, skeletal arms wrapped tightly around him, smelled the fetid stench of mould and decay, and shuddered at the touch of a rotting pair of lips pressed against his cheek.

“‘It’s down in the cold of the grave, my love.’”

Alistair shook himself, and clearly not just because of the cold. “You didn’t say it was going to be a scary story!”

Callum giggled despite himself. “It’s fun,” he said simply. “I had you all rapt, the whole time. Even Morrigan was looking nervous for a moment, there.”

“You wish,” she scoffed, although he thought he caught a glimpse of an amused sparkle in her eye.

“That is a rather twisted tale for a child to have heard,” Zevran muttered from next to him.

“You’re telling me. I didn’t sleep for a week afterwards, and Mother had to remind me every night before bedtime for the next year that none of our relatives were buried in crypts.” Barkspawn appeared by Callum’s feet, pushing his snout against his partner’s leg. “I know, Barky, I know. It’s just a story.”

Leliana was still smiling politely. “Perhaps something a bit more...pleasant, for our next story?”

Alistair raised his hand like a child in a classroom. “Oh, yes – I’ve got one!”

Zevran raised an eyebrow at him. “And I had thought you rather opposed to this combined storytelling idea?”

“Well, maybe at first,” he admitted. “But seeing Barkspawn reminded me of a poem I read years ago about a dog named ‘Spot’.” Alistair cleared his throat, before casting a hesitant glance towards Leliana. “A poem is a type of story, right?”

She chuckled. “Of course.”

“Brilliant!” Alistair frowned in concentration for a moment, before saying, “Alright, I think it went something like this...

“There once was a pup named Spot,
As dogs go, he was tiny and squat.
Though the runt of the litter,
He never was bitter,
Though often he was forgot.”

Alistair grimaced. “No, no, that’s not right. ‘Forgotten,’ maybe?”

“It’s alright,” Leliana reassured him. “No one expects your memory to be perfect. Just carry on.”

“Right, ah, well...how did the second verse go...?

“The friendliest dog was he,
As anyone who met him would agree.
He loved everyone,
From the old to the young;
His kindness was plain to see.

And cleverness, he was gifted with, too,
He always knew just what to do:
When his master came calling,
Spot would always go crawling,
Right up to the old man’s shoe.

Whether ‘neath sun or evening star,
He knew that this pup would go far.
With a pat on the head,
The old man, he said,
‘What a fine young dog you are!’”

Leliana and Callum gave Alistair a small round of applause as he concluded his recitation with a flourishing mock bow.

“Thank you, all,” he said in a voice filled with wry amusement. “I ought to become a poet, once the Blight is over and done with.”

Morrigan snorted. “Please.”

Zevran clapped his hands on his knees and announced, “I have a tale that will warm everyone up on this bitter, chilly night. Would you like to hear it?”

Callum kept his mouth firmly shut, knowing full well the kind of story had in mind. Leliana, on the other hand, leaned forward with excitement.

“By all means, Zevran.”

He cleared his throat. “Very well. Picture the scene, if you will: a manor in Antiva City, late one summery evening. The sun has sunk below the horizon, but the air is thick still with heat. Insects buzz all around, humming soft harmonies and dancing between torch flames. A young man clad in simple clothing that hangs loosely from his lithe form knocks on the massive front door of the manor, shuffling nervously from foot to foot, a bead of sweat forming on his brow. He swallows nervously, and is just about to knock once more when the door swings open, illuminating a portion of the gloomy street with warm, bright light. Another man stands in the doorway – somewhat older, and wearing much finer clothing that hugs his broad, well-muscled body tightly. The young man feels heat rise in his face as the wealthy man looks him up and down.

“‘Thank you for coming,’ he says, in a deep, resounding voice that is clearly used to commanding attention. ‘My fair wife and I have been anxious for you to arrive.’

“The young man bows his head. ‘I am sorry if I kept you waiting, ser.’

“The older man regards him quietly for a moment. ‘Is it true,’ he asks, ‘that you are one of the finest carpenters in all of Antiva?’

“The young carpenter tries his best to meet the man’s luscious, brown eyes. ‘I cannot vouch for all of Antiva, ser. But I have an expert pair of hands, coupled with a fine, solid supply of wood, and I have serviced a great many people in this fair city of ours over the years.’

“‘And these customers of yours – were they satisfied with your service?’

“‘Deeply,’ the carpenter assures him. ‘I give all those who call on me whatever it is they desire of me.’

“The nobleman gives him an appreciative smile. ‘Then you are just the man for the job.’ He turns to the side and allows the carpenter entry, saying ‘You will find my wife in her boudoir, just atop the stairs. She will instruct you on how to perform your duty.’

“‘You aren’t staying, ser?’

“The nobleman steps past the young man, passing through the threshold and out into the street. ‘I have important business to attend to elsewhere in the city. Rest assured, I will be back before the night has ended to admire your handiwork. I wish you all the best, my lad.’

“‘Thank you, ser!’ the carpenter calls after him as he departs, the door closing behind him. ‘I won’t disappoint!’

“The young carpenter makes his way up the lavish, carpeted stairs, marble banisters guiding his way upwards. The door to the boudoir lies slightly ajar, and he cautiously passes through, the fresh aroma of sweet perfume embracing him as he steps inside. The first thing he spies is a massive, four-poster bed lying against the wall – and he notices the problem immediately: one of the legs of the bed has collapsed, causing the entire thing to lean sharply to the side. The second thing he sees is a beautiful woman with skin of the richest bronze standing by the window. She is garbed in a thin, white, silken robe that embraces all her curves, accentuating her shoulders and hips and adorning her as naturally as feathers adorn a dove. She turns to face him as he walks in, lips slightly parted in surprise, and the young carpenter sees the way the gown lies upon her partly-exposed breasts.

“‘Thank goodness you are here,’ she breathes in dulcet tones. ‘I have great need of a man who understands how to work well with wood.’

“The carpenter nodded, hoisting his breeches up determinedly. ‘I can see the problem. You wish for me to fix your bed, yes?’

“She smiles warmly at him. ‘That is correct. Will you require any assistance from us?’

“The young carpenter shakes his head with a grin of pride. ‘Not at all. I always carry my tools with me.’

“She gestures towards the broken bed, sleeves sliding up her bared arms as she does so. ‘Then, by all means.’

“Fixing the bed is a simple matter for one so accomplished as our young hero. Within no time at all, the bed is righted once more, with a solid new leg to replace the broken one. The carpenter stands upright, clapping his hands together in delight at a job well done, only to feel a warm, flushed body press against his own.

“‘You have done very well,’ the woman whispers against his ear. ‘And you will be paid handsomely for your efforts. However, I have one more favour to ask of you, should you acquiesce...’

“The carpenter shudders at the sweet sensation of the noblewoman’s body against his. ‘Anything, milady.’

“She steps away from him and moves around the bed, a hand reaching out to brush almost teasingly against the silken sheets. ‘My husband and I were the ones who damaged the bed – accidentally, of course. He is a man of great passion and stamina...however, he is not here. And I must ensure that your work on the bed will withstand our more intimate activities...’

“The carpenter’s mouth fell open as she lay down atop the bed, robe coming undone at the front to reveal her perfect breasts, hardening with exposure to the night air-”

“Zevran!” Wynne protested, as Callum clutched his stomach in a desperate attempt to hold in his giggles. “Don’t you think this is a rather inappropriate story to tell here and now?”

Zevran shrugged innocently, but his exhilarated grin gave the game away. “Why so? We are amongst friends, no? And we are all adults, here...except maybe for Barkspawn.”

The mabari growled in disagreement.

“I believe I agree with the old woman,” Morrigan said primly. “I have no desire to hear any stories – let alone one as distasteful as yours.”

Zevran pouted. “Aww, but I was just getting to the good part!”

The witch frowned. “I don’t care.”

He cast a disappointed glance around the circle. “You don’t even want to hear about the part when the husband comes home?”

“Well...” Alistair began, only to quail under the looks Wynne and Morrigan gave him. “Perhaps...another time?”

“Indeed,” Leliana said, unsuccessfully attempting to hide a smile of her own. “It wouldn’t do to make any of our companions uncomfortable.”

“Fine, fine,” Zevran said, waving a hand dismissively. “But, if anyone does want to hear how the rest of the story goes, feel free to pay a visit to my tent later tonight. I’ll give you all the details...”

Wynne sniffed. “I believe it is my turn to tell a story now. And I have just the one in mind.”

“Maker’s breath,” Callum muttered, too quietly for anyone but Zevran or Barkspawn to hear. “It’s going to be from the Chant, isn’t it?”

“Long, long ago, in a small village on the eastern coast of what is now Ferelden, there lived a fair and beautiful young woman named ‘Andraste’.”

Callum groaned and shut his eyes wearily, Zevran stifling a chuckle.

“Andraste was the daughter of Elderath – chieftain of one of the largest and most powerful tribes of the Alamarri. Elderath had another daughter, Halliserre, who advised him on alchemy and matters of the arcane. Elderath placed great faith in his daughter for her knowledge, but Andraste mistrusted her – claiming She had heard Her half-sister whispering of the dragon gods of Tevinter during her rituals. Andraste was proven correct when She stumbled across Halliserre performing a blood magic ritual, which took Halliserre’s life and left the young Andraste scarred. Hurt both by the fell magic and by Her sister’s schemes, Andraste turned to prayer – seeking out the voice of the one true god. She pleaded to the Maker to return to His once-beloved children, scattered helplessly across the Blight-struck land, and save them from their suffering. Even as the years passed, and Andraste grew older, and was married to another chieftain by the name of Maferath, She never ceased in her prayers – not even when Tevinter ships sailed into harbour and raided Her village, killing Elderath and capturing Andraste. She was spirited away from Her home and taken to the lands far to the north, where She was enslaved and forced to toil night and day for the wicked magisters who served their cruel gods. But Andraste had a soul so strong and noble that it could move the mountains and shake the very heavens, and She eventually escaped Her captors and made the long trek south to Her home. Most people, having returned to their home after suffering such trials and tribulations, would have sought to live their lives in peace thereafter. But Andraste had seen how the slaves of the Imperium were treated – humans and elves alike – and begged the Maker to intervene and save His children from their torment. And, to Her eternal shock, He at last answered Her call. The Maker touched Andraste’s mind, bestowing upon Her a vision of all His mighty works – the beauty of all Creation – and asked Her to join Him at His side. But Andraste refused, encouraging Him instead to return to humanity and forgive them for their trespasses. The Maker was reluctant to forgive His sinful children, but so great was His love for Andraste that He agreed to Her request. Andraste went to Her mortal husband and told him of Her vision, and that She would lead their people to victory against the Tevinter Imperium. Maferath had doubts, but stood beside his wife as they rallied their armies and began their Exalted March northwards. Along the way, a great many people flocked to their cause – including a vast number of elves who had been enslaved by the Imperium. Chief among them was Shartan, who became one of Andraste’s most faithful advisors...”

“Particularly in the bedroom, as I understand the tales,” Zevran interjected, only to receive a withering look from Wynne.

“Those ‘tales’ are merely that; there is no evidence in the Chant that Andraste and Shartan were anything other than close friends.”

Zevran shrugged, shooting an amused glance at Callum as he did. “And what are close friends for?”

“Pardon me, Wynne,” Leliana said, “but there is very little reference to Shartan in the Chant at all. His accounts of Her and the First Exalted March were compiled in a Canticle of their own – are you familiar with it?”

“The Canticle of Shartan, yes,” Wynne said, frowning slightly. “There are many such Dissonant Verses claiming to be part of the Chant of Light, but they are not considered to be so by the Chantry.”

“As I understand it,” Zevran cut in again, “the Canticle of Shartan was struck from the canonical verses only after the Exalted March on the Dales several Ages ago.”

Leliana nodded gravely. “That is true.”

Morrigan scoffed. “How remarkable that what is considered ‘the Word of the Maker’ seems so susceptible to change!”

“The Chantry will do anything to make themselves look good,” Callum reminded her. “Even if it means eliminating part of their sacred text.”

“I wish I could read it someday,” Alistair murmured. “The Canticle of Shartan, I mean.”

Leliana giggled. “You could get in a lot of trouble just for having a copy of it, you know. It’s considered heresy, even in Ferelden.”

“When Alistair is king,” Zevran said jovially, “he can read whatever he likes!”

Alistair made a disgusted noise and covered his face with his hands. “Please don’t say that!”

Zevran grinned. “I should like to read the Canticle of Shartan someday, also – if only for the scandalous details...”

“It was considered part of the Chant, Zev.” Callum gave him a gentle dig in the ribs. “I doubt it’s as saucy as you’re expecting.”

Zevran sighed. “Perhaps you are right. Still, the thought of getting my hands on such a blasphemous text is titillating enough, as is.”

Wynne fixed them all with a disgruntled stare, prompting Leliana to say, “Our apologies, Wynne. Would you like to continue with your story?”

She shook her head. “I believe I will simply retire to bed, now. It’s late, and my old bones are weary from the cold...”

She got to her feet and made her way back to her tent. Leliana cast a sheepish glance at her back as she left them, before turning back to face the rest of the party with a somewhat glum expression.

“I think we might have soured her mood a bit,” she said.

“Who cares?” Callum rolled his eyes. “It’s not like it’s a story we haven’t all heard a thousand times before now.”

Leliana narrowed her eyes at him. “Callum, there’s no need to be so dismissive. Wynne had a right to tell her story, and deserved the same show of respect as any other person here.”

“I don’t have any time for Chantry propaganda,” Callum insisted. “If I wanted to hear that, I’d just try talking to a chanter, instead.”

She frowned before turning away, clearly deciding not to reply. “Morrigan, it’s your turn to tell a story.”

The witch made a sickened face. “Please tell me you are joking.”

“Not at all. Everyone else has told a story – aside from Sten.”

The Qunari grunted, his eyes firmly shut and his head slumped onto his chest, which was slowly rising and falling. Evidently, he had fallen asleep while the tales were being told, although Callum had the distinct impression he was merely feigning his slumber in an effort to avoid having to tell a story of his own.

“And if I refuse?”

Zevran leaned forward eagerly. “Then we’ll all sit here until you do.”

Morrigan ached an eyebrow. “Out here in the cold? Not even you would be so foolish.”

“I think you underestimate just how stubborn Zevran can be,” Callum said, earning a flick in the ear from the man in question.

“It doesn’t have to be a long story,” Leliana told her. “Anything will do, really.”

Morrigan grumbled. “If I tell you this blasted story, will you all leave me in peace?”

“Yes,” Leliana and Callum said in unison.

“For now,” Zevran added.

Morrigan pursed her lips. “...Very well. Once upon a time, there lived a fair and dainty young princess with beautiful, golden hair as long as she was tall. It was said that no scissors or shears throughout the land could cut the maiden’s hair, which only continued to grow and grow. Her parents, being royals and far too lacking in common sense, decided that the best thing to do would be to send the girl far away to live in a secluded tower, where nobody would ever ask invasive questions or accuse her parents of sorcery. There, the princess dwelled – high atop the tall tower, surrounded by few creature comforts, as her hair continued to grow longer still. Deciding against being proactive in escaping her predicament, the princess instead chose to remain where she was confined, helplessly awaiting the day when someone else would do all the hard work for her. One evening, as the princess was sitting in the solitary window of the tower, she caught sight of a man in armour approaching the tower. This man must be my rescuer, she thought, and called out to him for help. When the man saw the beautiful princess high above him in the tower, he was immediately besotted – as men so often are – and agreed to rescue her from her predicament. To aid him, the princess tossed down her golden locks for him to use as a makeshift rope. The man did as she bade him, tangling his fingers in her hair as he clambered up to her. But when he drew near the top, the princess (who had been leaning out of the window) ran out of strength, and collapsed. The man’s weight pulled her right through the window, and the two of them plummeted to the earth far below, hitting the ground with a sickening thud as their bones were smashed into paste. The end.”

And with that, Morrigan got to her feet and turned away from them, marching off to her tent without so much as a ‘Goodnight’.

“You know,” Alistair said, after a few moments of uncomfortable silence, “that was actually a lot longer than I thought Morrigan’s story was going to be.”

“What a rotten ending,” Leliana muttered.

“I thought it was funny,” Callum said. “I certainly wouldn’t have expected Morrigan, of all people, to tell a story where everyone lives happily ever after.”

“I suppose not,” she admitted. “I just wish we’d ended the night on a happier note.”

“There’ll be other nights,” Callum reassured her. “I know I’ll have another story prepared that’ll spook you right out of your boots.”

“And I, as well,” Zevran announced. “Provided I shall be allowed to tell it?”

“We’ll see, Zevran.” Leliana gave him a wry smile. “Now, I shall be off to bed, also. Goodnight!”

The three men left behind bid her goodnight in turn as she stood up and walked back to her tent. Once she was gone, Alistair turned to Zevran.

“I suppose I’ll never hear the rest of that story, then?”

Zevran beamed at him. “That depends. I could give you a private rendition in my tent, if you like?”

Alistair blinked. “Oh, erm, just the two of us, you mean?”

“Of course not!” Zevran jerked his head towards Callum. “Callum will be there, as well.”

Alistair’s eyes darted between them, the meaning of Zevran’s words slowly dawning on him as his face turned scarlet.

“Oh! Well...ah, in that case, I think I’ll have to pass on that one.” Alistair got to his feet, quickly turning away from the other two men. “I’m sure it was a lovely story, though. Er, goodnight!”

“Goodnight, Alistair,” Zevran called after him as he swiftly departed. “Don’t be afraid to use your imagination!”

Callum shook his head in both amusement and exasperation as Alistair ducked into his tent, closing the flap behind him. “I, for one, would love to hear the rest of the story.”

Zevran hummed happily against Callum’s lips as they leaned in and shared a soft kiss. “Then I would be more than happy to tell it. As the noblewoman splayed herself out across the bed, her nightgown coming undone and slipping from her figure as easily as water slips down a pane of glass, the carpenter felt his breeches grow painfully tight against his engorged member...”

Callum wrapped his arms tightly around Zevran and lifted him up until he was carrying him like a babe in his arms. With Zevran in tow, the two of them made their way back to Callum’s tent, sharing the warmth of their bodies long into the night.

Chapter Text

After having spent the better part of an entire day either climbing through caves or making their way through the Gauntlet within the Temple of Sacred Ashes, the party were relieved (to say the least) to step out into the open air again at last. The bitter chill of the wind was enough to cancel out what little heat the late afternoon sun provided, but the fresh air perked the four of them right up, all the same.

“Finally!” Alistair cheered, spreading his arms wide and inhaling deeply. “I thought we’d be stuck in that dusty old temple for the rest of our lives!”

“It wasn’t all bad,” Zevran said, meeting Callum’s eye mischievously. “We all got to see each other naked, didn’t we? As far as I’m concerned, that was worth all the previous struggling.”

‘Previous struggling’ was a light way of putting it: the four of them had been forced to slaughter their way through Haven’s populace after the villagers had turned on them, before finding the injured Genetivi and letting him lead them up the mountainside to the site where the Temple of Sacred Ashes lay. After that, they’d faced what had seemed like an endless supply of cultists, demons, and even dragons during their trip through the ruined temple and the caverns that lay beneath the mountaintop. But most difficult of all had been the Gauntlet. Callum felt as though the mysterious Guardian were standing before him still, with those piercing eyes and that all-knowing stare, asking him if he believed he had done the right thing with Jowan. Callum had answered the question hurriedly, hoping that the Guardian would not reveal how Callum had helped Jowan escape Redcliffe, but thankfully, he hadn’t pressed the issue. Jowan himself had appeared further into the temple, albeit only in spiritual form. The appearance of his old friend had rattled Callum all the same, as had the subsequent battle with ghostly duplicates of himself and his companions. As a result, he’d found little time for enjoyment when he and the other three had been made to strip naked in order to pass through the fire barring access to the urn. Even Zevran had seemed somewhat distant at the time, and yet now he was claiming he’d ogled them all shamelessly. Had he really done so without Callum noticing? Or was he trying to hide how the Gauntlet had affected him, in turn?

“It was incredible!” The awestruck delight in Leliana’s voice was palpable, and Callum watched as she spun around in the snow like a little girl, dizzy with merriment. “We walked through the fire, without so much as a singed lock of hair! Doesn’t that just amaze you all?”

“Nothing in either this world or the Fade could amaze me as much as the sight of your nude form, Leliana.”

She giggled at Zevran’s words, too caught up in her own glee to be bothered by the lecherous flattery. “It was interesting to see all of your tattoos for the first time, Zevran.”

The Antivan clutched at his heart as he feigned a swoon. “At last, I have succeeded in capturing the beautiful bard’s attentions! Worry not, my dear, for I will gladly show you any one of my tattoos whenever you wish to see them again.”

Leliana’s eyes flickered briefly over to Callum. “Somehow, I think the Warden might disapprove.”

Zevran barked a laugh. “Then you clearly don’t know the Warden very well.”

Callum passed no comment, but did give Leliana a brief wink when she glanced at him again. He looked past her to see that Alistair was walking ahead of the rest of the group, likely keen to avoid the conversation. The other Grey Warden had been the most modest of the four of them back in the temple, and had shown great reluctance in removing his smallclothes even when they had all pointedly looked away. Callum couldn’t fathom what he had to be ashamed of – the man had a body that could draw the eye of nearly anyone he wanted. Even now that his crush on Alistair had mostly waned, Callum found himself every so often casting a quick, appreciative glance at his fellow Warden when he wasn’t looking. He’d refrained from doing so back in the temple for the sake of Alistair’s comfort, but now that they were all fully-clothed again, Callum kept the chill at bay by warming himself with thoughts of Alistair’s bared body, all bulges and bulk on full display.

“What are you smiling at, mi amigo?”

“I’ll tell you later,” he promised, and Zevran bared his teeth in a thrilled grin.

“I do love surprises.”

At that moment, however, they were interrupted by a tremendous, bellowing roar from somewhere far above their heads. Their conversation fell abruptly silent as a massive shadow swept by them, blotting out the sun for one heart-stopping moment as the high dragon they had spotted on their way into the temple soared overhead. Instinctively, they all ducked down. Alistair darted over towards a nearby cliff face and pressed himself up against it, and they all quickly followed his lead as furtively as they could. Thankfully, the great beast seemed to pay them no mind – undoubtedly it was returning home from a hunt and preparing to feed its young.

Not that there could be many of them left after the number of dragonlings we slaughtered on our way up the mountain, Callum hoped.

Zevran whispered to him as they hugged the mountainside. “Perhaps not every surprise is so fun, yes?”

“We need to be careful,” Callum murmured, just loudly enough for his three companions to hear. “We made it inside the temple without her attacking us: if we’re lucky, we can avoid her again. Keep a steady pace, and no sudden movements. And keep the noise down until we’re out of earshot.”

“How far can a dragon’s ear hear, anyway?” Alistair wondered aloud.

“Hopefully not far enough to hear this conversation,” Leliana said.

“Get ready to move,” Callum said, pushing himself away from the rock wall once the sound of the dragon’s wings had faded. “We’ll head back the way we came: up the walkway and back into the ruined temple.”

They continued on, moving much more quietly than before – all their exuberance had vanished in the wake of the dragon’s reappearance. Whether or not this terrible beast was really the reincarnation of Andraste Herself (and Callum highly doubted it was), it was more than capable of killing all four of them with little effort. It would be a great shame for them to have found the Temple of Sacred Ashes and retrieved a part of the precious relic within, only to fall at the talons of a high dragon.

They crossed the open expanse at the foot of the dragon’s roost, occasionally casting a fearful glance upwards, but never catching a glimpse of the monster whenever they did. The doorway from which they had exited the ruined temple earlier was just ahead, perhaps a hundred feet away or so, at the end of the stone walkway. Just next to the walkway was some sort of ceremonial gong – Callum had noticed it as they’d passed through earlier, and had suspected it had been used by the cultists to summon the dragon. Now that they were all dead and gone, Callum doubted it would ever be used again.

In the end, it was a minor mishap that gave them all away. One of the cobblestones must have been loose, or misshapen, for it caught against Alistair’s foot as he tried to trudge silently up the walkway. The Warden flailed as he stumbled, armour rattling as he lost his balance completely and toppled over. Callum watched it all play out in the space of a second, utterly unable to do anything to help as Alistair’s left arm lashed out in his panic, gauntleted fist ramming into the gong, which rang out across the mountain in a clear, resounding tone. The sound echoed off the cliff faces, louder than Callum would have thought possible for such a small instrument. As it finally began to fade away, he cast a hesitant glance up towards the dragon’s roosting spot, only to spy a giant, serpentine head rising up from the top of the cliff.

“Keep moving towards the entrance,” Callum hissed to his companions as he helped Alistair to his feet. “Don’t run unless it takes off, and don’t make any other sudden movements.”

Even through their helmets, Callum could see the combination of embarrassment and sheer terror on Alistair’s face. But he made no attempt to speak as they continued their path up towards the entrance. Callum turned to look over his shoulder at the dragon’s head just as a set of massive, leathery wings appeared on either side of it. Even from this distance, they could hear the sound of the wind catching beneath those wings as they flapped hard.

“Move!”

All pretence of stealth abandoned, the four of them began sprinting full pelt towards the temple entrance. Callum felt as though he were trying to walk through water, for the armour weighing him down made it difficult for him to run, no matter how much of his magic he used to bolster his strength. Alistair was in a similar situation, allowing the two rogues to pull ahead of them. But even they wouldn’t be fast enough, Callum realised, as the dragon’s shadow passed over them once again. The sound of the beast’s wings was so close and so loud that it drowned out even the pounding of Callum’s blood in his ears. The party came to a staggered halt as the dragon landed directly in front of them, cobblestones cracking under its massive claws as it blocked the way to the temple entrance, cutting off their escape.

“Move back!” Callum shouted, stepping forward and holding his arms up as he summoned energy to his hands. “Back down the walkway! I’ll keep it busy!”

Skilled mage he might have been, but Callum had little doubt that he was no match for a high dragon. But if he could slow it down while the others moved back down to the open area below, their chances could at the very least improve. Fortunately, his companions seemed to understand, for they obeyed his command and retreated back down the walkway. The dragon lunged at Leliana as she darted away, but Callum let loose a telekinetic blast in its direction. The dragon snarled as its head snapped back, neck reeling upwards. Its hungering eyes darted towards Callum, identifying him as the cause of the pain it had felt, and it bared its teeth. Its jaws snapped, and Callum unleashed another blast, forcing it to take a step backwards as it yowled in pain. He took the opportunity to race backwards down the path, never taking his eyes off of the giant beast before him. An arrow whooshed past him, striking the dragon directly on its cheek, only to glance off of its hardened scales. Callum heard Leliana hiss in frustration from somewhere behind him. The dragon was advancing on him again now, crawling steadily down the walkway towards him, its mouth opening wide as if to devour him. The glimpse the dragon’s opened maw offered into the back of its throat afforded Callum a glimpse of bright, orange flame, and he cried out as he realised what was about to happen. Panicking, he flung a force field around himself just as the fire came spewing out of the dragon’s mouth, slamming into the barrier and enveloping it in flame. Mercifully, the fire couldn’t penetrate the force field, although the heat was enough to make pinpricks of sweat develop on the parts of Callum’s face that were exposed through the visor. The moment the flames died down, Callum dropped the force field, only to be sent flying backwards as the dragon charged directly into him. The world spun as Callum toppled head-over-heels down the walkway, clattering into the solid ground after several terrifying seconds of falling. Pain shot through him, bones rattling with the force of his landing, but his armour had protected him from the worst of the damage. He felt a hand take hold of his upper arm, dragging him back onto his feet even as his head swam with dizziness.

“Cal!” Alistair’s voice rang in his ears. “Do you need a healing potion?”

“I’m alright!” he responded, shaking himself loose and shrugging off the lingering pain. “We need to get away from the dragon!”

“I don’t know if we can,” Zevran said from somewhere nearby. “It moves faster than we can. Even if we tried to run back into the Temple of Sacred Ashes, it would likely beat us there just as before.”

“Then...” Alistair shook his head. “We couldn’t possibly kill this thing! There are only four of us!”

“The archdemon is supposedly a dragon, also, yes?” Leliana said. “Perhaps we should look at this as practise...?”

The dragon had reached the foot of the walkway now, and its eyes swept over the four of them in turn, trying to determine which of them was the easiest target.

“Then we fight,” Callum decided, trying to keep the fear out of his voice. “Even if we can just weaken it, we could make our getaway. Don’t take any unnecessary risks, and attack only when its guard is down. Leliana, keep your distance and aim for its wings: they should be easier to penetrate than its scales, and might help to keep it grounded. Alistair and I will draw its attention while Zevran tries to sneak around it.”

“And do what, exactly?” Alistair asked incredulously. “You think the tail is its weak point?”

“If Zevran can sneak behind it, he might be able to climb onto its back. From there he’ll have an easier time using his daggers.”

Alistair turned to glance at Zevran. “Are you really alright with this plan?”

The former assassin had a grave look on his face as he stared down the dragon, now creeping slowly towards them, like a cat about to pounce. His eyes flickered towards Callum momentarily.

“I trust you,” he said.

Callum nodded, ignoring the stabbing feeling in his gut as he realised he was most likely sending at least one of his companions to their death. “Then brace yourselves. It’s time to slay a dragon.”

As if in response to his words, the high dragon roared and lunged towards their location. The four of them separated, running off in different directions. Alistair was the closest to the dragon as he ran, and he lashed out with his sword as he passed by one of its back legs. The blow struck true, but didn’t cut deep, and only seemed to irritate the beast further. Its tail swung wide, narrowly missing both Zevran and Alistair. A peppering of arrows from Leliana made the dragon snarl and launch itself in her direction, but a spirit bolt to the back of its head from Callum made it turn back around. Having grabbed its attention, he fired another bolt to draw it towards him. The dragon took in a sharp breath before spitting out a fireball, which Alistair quickly deflected with his shield, putting his templar training to good use as he knocked the fireball away. The dragon’s jaws snapped at him, but Alistair jumped back and managed to avoid the attack, taking a quick swing at the beast’s maw for good measure before backing away. He drew blood this time, leaving the dragon with an oozing wound just above its upper lip. Another few spirit bolts from Callum kept it moving towards himself and Alistair, even while Leliana fired another volley of arrows into its wing, until Zevran launched himself up onto the dragon’s back. The beast snarled and bucked like a druffalo, but Zevran held on for dear life, slashing the back of the dragon’s neck a handful of times with his daggers before sliding off and sprinting away out of sight again before it could retaliate.

Slowly, a pattern began to form: Leliana would strike the wings with her arrows, almost always hitting her mark exactly, while Alistair and Callum kept the beast from moving towards her. Every so often, Zevran would reappear and land a few critical strikes on the dragon’s neck before vanishing again just as quickly. Callum had a force field ready for when the dragon breathed fire on them again, but more often its claws and mouth were its method of attack. Back and forth, back and forth. It was like a form of dance – one that would spell disaster should the delicate balance be disrupted. And some time later, when it did happen, it happened far too quickly.

The dragon was weakening, they’d noticed. Its wings were either too badly-damaged or too heavy with arrows to move properly, and had lowered to the dragon’s side, dripping with blood and gore. It wouldn’t be flying anywhere now – not without great difficulty. Alistair and Callum stayed cautious, constantly moving the dragon away from the archer, who was now aiming for the more vital regions of its body. It wasn’t until Zevran vaulted onto the dragon’s back yet again that the beast made its move, its neck twisting around until it was face-to-face with him. Zevran cried out, and Callum echoed him as he caught sight of the creature’s jaws closing around Zevran’s waist, lifting him up off the dragon’s body and into the air. There was another whoosh of air as a spray of arrows struck the beast in the side of the neck, just below its jaw, and the dragon roared as its mouth opened and dropped its prey. Zevran fell to the ground hard, crumpling like discarded parchment, blood spraying from his injuries. The dragon’s head swooped back down to pick him up, but another set of arrows hit the same spot again, and the beast whirled around to face the pestering archer. Alistair raced over to Leliana as the dragon stomped closer to her, murderous anger burning in its eyes, as Callum ran over to where Zevran lay on the rocky ground. He was breathing, and even still half-conscious. He was groaning with pain and anguish, writhing on the hard earth as his blood left him in spurt after spurt. The wound wasn’t immediately fatal, but there was no way he could continue fighting until he’d been healed. For the first time probably in his entire life, Callum wished Wynne had been with them.

“Drink up!” Callum urged the wounded man as he withdrew a healing potion, uncorked it, and stuck the end of it into Zevran’s mouth. Even through shock, Zevran managed to gulp the liquid down, screwing his eyes shut as he fought to stay conscious and in control. When at last he’d finished the potion, his head dropped back down to the ground, eyes fluttering. A single healing potion wouldn’t be enough to seal the wound shut, but it would reduce much of the damage done.

“It’s coming...”

Callum’s blood froze in his veins upon hearing Zevran’s mumbled words. He glanced over his shoulder to see the dragon moving steadily towards them, a mixture of blood and saliva trickling from its gaping maw. Alistair and Leliana were nowhere to be seen – possibly the beast had beaten them into retreating for the time being. Now, it was taking the chance to finish off the one it had wounded. Its injuries were slowing it down, but it was far from finished. Callum almost sobbed out of a combination of fear and frustration, his blood-soaked hands shaking as they grasped Zevran tight...

Blood.

The desperate thought came to him in a dizzying flash – was a dragon really so different from a person? They had two eyes, four limbs, a brain in their skull, and blood flowing through their veins. There was no reason why the same spell he’d used on the castle guard in Redcliffe couldn’t work on this creature, as well. It would just take much more power.

Pulling out his knife, and keeping his eyes on the approaching dragon all the while, Callum opened one of his gauntlets with his free hand, exposing a sliver of bare skin. He sank the knife in, wincing through the pain as he made a sharp, smooth cut. But the sudden surge in power that immediately followed overwhelmed all else. The trickle of fluid from his wrist now became a steady flow, draining from him and forming a stream that twisted and wound itself around his hand like a chain. The dragon hadn’t slowed down – indeed it seemed to be picking up speed in its eagerness to attack them both. Callum’s blood kept coming, but he knew already that it wouldn’t be enough. He cast a glance downwards at his companion, who was staring at the stream of blood wrapped around Callum’s hand with wide, uncomprehending eyes.

“Cal...?”

“Zev,” the Warden pleaded. “I need to use your blood. Will you let me?”

His brown eyes flickered to Callum’s face, saw the desperate expression there, and seemed to understand, even through his fear and confusion.

“I...y-yes.”

It was all the confirmation he’d needed. Callum twisted his hand, drawing forth the blood that still lingered in Zevran’s wound, pulling it out of his body and adding it to the flow. The half-dried blood that had spilled onto Zevran’s skin and armour, as well as the ground, was drawn up also. The dragon was almost upon them now, its tremendous footsteps shaking the ground beneath them, its mouth open wide and ready to devour. Callum stood up, held out his hand, and unleashed the spell.

The blood he had gathered lashed out like a whip, darting straight for the dragon’s head. It weaved through the air, faster than Callum’s eyes could track, before splitting into two separate streams and travelling to either side of the beast’s skull. The dragon shrieked as the blood sank into its eyes, passing through them on the way to its brain, and the sheer volume of the sound made Callum’s ears ache. But the scream lasted a mere second before it cut off, giving way to dead silence, anger and hunger vanishing from the dragon’s bloodied eyes as they turned dull and cloudy. At that moment, Callum felt a tug, as though his body were a ship whose anchor had just reached the seabed. He could feel the dragon now, as though it were somehow part of his body – the thread of blood connecting him to its brain let him share in its sensations. He felt bigger than himself, more powerful than ever before. He could lose himself, here and now, and embrace the sweet, intoxicating bliss of power...

But it wouldn’t be that simple, he knew. A dragon was no pet or minion. Already he could feel the great beast beginning to stir and thrash, resisting his grip on its mind. He didn’t have enough blood to shut down the dragon’s brain altogether, but he could make it stop working for a few moments. That would be the perfect chance to strike.

Callum clenched his fist and relinquished the hold on the dragon, which slumped as it fell unconscious, eyes rolled back in its head as it sank to the ground a handful of metres from where Callum and Zevran were. The back of its neck was bared to him, and he could see the damage Zevran had done to it, could see where the scales had been hacked at and cut away until only glistening, bloodied flesh remained. Putting away the knife and drawing his greatsword once again, Callum raised his blade and charged. He leaped over the dragon’s great head, landing at the base of its skull and letting out a mighty shout as he plunged his sword down into the exposed flesh, summoning all of his strength and magic to stab down as far as he could. He felt the blade sink through the flesh, hit bone, and keep going, severing tendons and muscles as it went. At the instant he felt his spell fade, the dragon let out a gurgling howl, and Callum was flung from the beast as it thrashed and flailed, its damaged neck twisting and swinging from side to side. Its tail thrashed against the ground, its injured wings feebly attempting to move as the dragon’s death throes petered out. The great beast choked on its own blood, which poured from it like a fountain, as its movements slowly came to a stop.

Callum lay on the hard ground, panting heavily as his head swam from both his injuries and exhaustion from having expended so much magic in the fight. He managed to lift his head up off the ground, catching sight through his visor of the dragon’s massive body twitching as it died. Zevran was lying nearby, possibly unconscious – hopefully unconscious. Callum let his head sink down to the ground gently, letting out a heaving sigh of relief. His body quivered with adrenaline still, and through the ringing in his ears, he thought he could hear footsteps coming closer...

“Cal! Zevran!”

“Are you alright?!”

It was Alistair and Leliana, returning at last from wherever the dragon had chased them to. He felt a pair of arms wrap around his shoulders and back, propping him up into a sitting position. His visor was lifted open and a bottle of foul-smelling liquid was pushed up against his lips, but Callum shook his head and waved it away.

“Z-Zev needs it more than I do.”

“Drink it anyway,” Leliana insisted from beside him. “You’ve taken a beating from that monster.”

He reluctantly did as he was told, feeling the tingling of his wounds closing and bruises fading as he drank the disgusting concoction down. Once Leliana was satisfied that his condition had improved, she helped him to his feet. A glance down towards the place where Zevran lay showed him that Alistair was taking care of him in turn. The other Warden kept glancing nervously at the dead dragon, as though afraid that it would reanimate at any moment. But, even from here, Callum could see the gaping wound on the back of the beast’s neck where he had plunged his greatsword all the way through. The weapon itself was covered with gristle and bone fragments, coated almost to the hilt with gore. He’d slain the dragon – they all had, together. But the victory felt hollow, and the image of Zevran’s terrified face flashed in Callum’s mind’s eye as anxiety gripped his stomach.

Alistair lifted Zevran to his feet, the smaller man’s eyes blinking open blearily, only to widen as they took in the sight of the massive dragon carcass mere feet away.

“We...did it?” he asked in disbelief.

Callum nodded. “It’s dead. We managed to kill it.”

“And we all lived to tell the tale,” Leliana murmured numbly, sounding neither happy nor sad. As she turned her eyes to look at him, Callum realised why. The look she gave him was one of confusion, with a trace of anger.

“When the dragon came for us,” she said, “we had to get away as fast as we could. We came back the moment we were able, only to see you casting...some sort of spell. It didn’t look like any I’d ever seen before.”

Alistair was giving him the same look, his expression making Callum’s heart sink.

“Cal...was that...?” Alistair swallowed deeply and folded his arms. “Was that blood magic that you used?”

Callum’s jaw clenched involuntarily. Alistair had been trained as a templar – he knew exactly what blood magic looked like when he saw it. He already knew the answer.

“...Yes. It was.”

A heavy, bleak silence fell between them. When Alistair spoke again, his voice was hoarse, his tone disbelieving.

“Why?” he asked simply, staring at a point somewhere near Callum’s shoulder.

Callum held one hand to his aching head. “It’s...” He sighed. “Can this wait until we’re back at camp? Everyone deserves to hear the full story. Please, Al.”

For a moment, Callum was certain Alistair was going to demand an explanation here and now. But, eventually, his shoulders slumped and he turned away.

“Fine. Then let’s go.”

Callum wanted to say something – but what? Make an excuse? An apology? But there would be time for that later. Zevran was still injured and needed care back at camp. Brother Genetivi was still waiting for them further down the mountain. Loghain still hid himself away in Denerim, plotting their downfall. There was still a Blight to stop, and darkspawn to kill.

But even so, Callum knew that nothing was the same anymore.

 

Chapter Text

The trek back down the mountainside to their camp at the outskirts of the now-abandoned village of Haven seemed to take far longer than the initial climb, despite there being no more cultists and far fewer monsters to slow them down. They marched in silence, even after Zevran’s legs had given out from beneath him and he’d had to be carried the rest of the way. Alistair had merely picked him up in his arms like a baby, without protest.

Sten had been on lookout when they’d arrived back at camp, and must have seen them coming from far away, for everyone had gathered at the outskirts to watch them approach. Once it became clear that they had injuries, they sprang into action: Sten strode out to meet them, taking Zevran out of Alistair’s arms and carrying him into his tent, with Wynne following them while Morrigan set about preparing herbs and remedies. Barkspawn trotted faithfully up to Callum’s side, nuzzling his partner’s hand as though sensing his anxiety.

“What happened?” he heard Morrigan ask them. “You all appear to have suffered most unusual injuries.”

“We were attacked,” Callum explained, “by a high dragon.”

Her eyebrows rose sharply. “And you all lived to tell the tale? Just how did you manage to escape?”

“We didn’t,” Alistair told her. “We...it’s dead.”

“I find that rather difficult to believe.”

“It’s the truth,” Callum insisted, before Alistair and Morrigan could get swept up in another argument. “We slew the dragon. I’ll explain the ‘how’ later.”

She pursed her lips, but didn’t seem likely to press the issue. “And the ashes?”

Callum reached a hand down the front of his armour, taking hold of the small pouch he had tied around his neck and pulling it out to display to the witch. “We found them.”

“Indeed? I thought them scarcely more than a fable.”

“Whether they’re the genuine article or not,” Callum said, “I don’t particularly care. So long as they heal the arl, that’s good enough.”

“Perhaps there is some wisdom in that,” she said, pointedly emphasising the some. “In any case, healing our own comes before anyone else. Let me see to your injuries...”

 

 

Thanks to the healers’ help, all of the party members who had faced the high dragon were able to make a full recovery. Once it had been made clear to Callum that there was no immediate danger to any of them, he called everyone around the campfire for a “discussion”. Zevran remained in his tent, unconscious but stable. Alistair and Leliana had trusted Callum to tell the full story, and thankfully had not yet discussed what had happened atop the mountain with anyone else. For that, at least, Callum was grateful to them for. He felt their eyes on him as he stood to address them all.

“Everyone...” He swallowed nervously. Where the hell was he supposed to even begin? “There’s something important I have to tell you all: a grave secret I’ve been keeping for some time now. I didn’t want things to...to come to this.” He screwed his eyes shut. He shouldn’t make excuses – that would only make things look even worse than they already were. “But it needs to be said, all the same. Today, we fought a high dragon, and I killed it...using blood magic.” He paused for a moment to let the gravity of his words sink in. “I’m a maleficar.”

He cast a cautious glance around at his companions, seeing Alistair’s grim expression as he stared into the fire, unwilling to look away. Leliana was looking at Callum, but not meeting his gaze. Sten looked as impassive as ever, and Barkspawn only seemed confused by the whole affair. Only Morrigan and Wynne could look him in the eye, and it was the latter who broke the silence at last.

“I can’t say that I’m surprised,” she said, her tone hollow and dull. “But I am disappointed. You claim to be a hero to the people of Ferelden and yet, in truth, you are little better than the monsters we face. You despicable child...a maleficar, of all things!”

Even coming from someone who Callum had such little respect for, Wynne’s words hurt. His jaw clenched involuntarily.

“I never claimed to be a hero,” he told her. “It was others – like you – who did that. I’ve helped and I’ve hurt many people on my journey. Titles aren’t what matter to me.”

“Then what does matter to you?” Wynne demanded. “I had once thought, upon learning you had left the Circle, that you wanted to serve as an example to magekind. To improve the lot of our people. To show the people of Thedas that we are more than the sins of the transgressors amongst us! Clearly, that cannot be the case, now!”

She still didn’t understand. All Wynne ever thought about – all she ever could think about, after years of Chantry indoctrination and conditioning – was how to appease her oppressors. Every bad deed ever committed by any mage ever was part of the reason for their entire history of oppression, according to her. And from her point of view, any good deed a mage ever committed was done not out of altruism and kindness, but with the intention of appeasing the people who looked for any excuse to demonise them.

Callum kept his voice as even as possible. “You think every blood mage is equivalent to a Tevinter magister, I suppose?”

“Blood magic is evil!” she cried, throwing her hands over her head in her anger. “This is what every mage – every person across Thedas – is told from the moment they are born. Why is it that you, somehow, have missed that particular lesson, after all the years we spent teaching you?”

Teaching? Is that what she called it? Callum shook his head.

“I’ve done no harm to anyone with my blood magic. In fact, I saved our lives today with it. We would have died to that dragon’s talons and fire had I not ensnared it with that spell.”

“Was there really no other way?” Leliana asked, her voice sounding uncharacteristically hoarse. “You are a powerful mage, Callum. You could have thought of something else.”

She wasn’t wrong, necessarily. It would have been easy for him to snap at her and tell her she knew nothing about what it meant to be a mage, or a Grey Warden, and the sacrifices one must make in times of need. But Callum knew the truth as well as she did: when he’d seen the dragon bearing down on them, along with Zevran’s battered and wounded body lying on the hard ground, he’d panicked.

“Perhaps I could have,” he told her. “But we were losing the battle, Zevran was in danger – we were all in danger – and I needed to use as much power as I could possibly muster. There was no time for half-measures.”

“I’m sure there have been many maleficarum who’ve said the same thing,” Alistair muttered, “when they used blood magic for the first time.” He cast a hesitant glance at his fellow Warden. “Was that the first time?”

“...It was the second.”

“And the first...?”

Callum cast his eyes to the eastern sky, staring far off into the distance. “I helped a dear friend of mine in his hour of need.”

Morrigan folded her arms. “So you did help Jowan escape.”

“You suspected me all along?”

“Not of being a blood mage,” she said. “But I had thought it remarkably convenient how Jowan had slipped free of his cell during the short period of time that you were in his presence.”

“So you lied to us about that, too?” Alistair fumed.

“What would you have done if you’d known I’d set him free? Would you have told Bann Teagan? Or informed the templars?” Callum nodded towards Wynne, still glowering at him.

“Jowan is dangerous, Callum!” Alistair snapped. “He poisoned Arl Eamon!”

“I know what he did, Al.”

“And you just...let him go?!”

“Jowan was taken advantage of by powerful men and manipulated into doing some terrible things. He doesn’t deserve the blame – not entirely. Loghain is the one who had the arl poisoned.”

“You’re defending him?!”

“What Jowan did was wrong. But he deserves a chance to atone – a chance that the Circle would have denied him. I gave him that chance instead.”

It was Wynne who interjected next. “These excuses are merely products of a twisted mind. You claim you’ve harmed nobody with your foul magic, but you have just admitted to us that you aided a fellow maleficar in escaping justice.” Wynne’s expression was thunderous. “Who benefits from your blood magic, besides yourself and the demons you now cavort with?”

“I don’t ‘cavort’ with demons!”

“Then how else could you have learned the secrets of blood magic?”

“I...” Callum blew air out through his nose. “I threatened a demon into sharing them with me. I told it I would spare its life if it taught me how to use blood magic.”

“So you did bargain with it!” Wynne said disgustedly.

“I didn’t!” Callum insisted. “There was no deal, no give-and-take. It would show me the way of blood magic and leave forever or I would destroy it where it stood.”

“‘Leave forever’?” Alistair echoed in disbelief. “You don’t mean...? That demon was the one that possessed Connor?!”

Callum flinched, before trying to steel himself. No more lies. He’d hide the truth no longer from them. “It was.”

A myriad of expressions crossed over Alistair’s face – shock, then exasperation, then fury, and then heartbreak.

“You...treated his life like a bargaining chip.”

Callum shook his head. “No, Al, I...Connor was never in any danger. I made it clear to that demon that if it ever so much as looked at him ever again, I’d kill it where it stood.”

But Alistair was adamant. “You used him, Callum. Just so you could gain power – forbidden power.”

“Not for a Grey Warden,” Leliana murmured, causing Alistair’s head to turn to look at her.

“What?”

“A Grey Warden can do whatever they please, so long as it can be justified as a means to combating the darkspawn and ending the Blight. They don’t answer to king or cleric. And no power is forbidden to them.” She sighed bitterly. “I didn’t know just what that meant, until now.”

“Is that why you did it?” Alistair asked him. “You learned blood magic to help stop the darkspawn? Or was there another reason?”

“Ending the Blight is what matters most,” Callum told them all. “But...I won’t deny there was another reason.”

Wynne glared at him. “And what reason might that be?”

It was the question Callum had been asking himself ever since they had left Redcliffe. What, exactly, had compelled him to ask the demon to share its knowledge with him? He’d known the risk well – it had been driven into his skull from the moment he’d first entered the Circle. Had it been sheer curiosity? Possibly. Maybe even a simple lust for power? But Callum had never wanted power that couldn’t be used to help people.

“I wanted...” He paused, steeling himself. “I wanted to show the world that I wasn’t weak. That mages aren’t weak. That we can control our own destinies, no matter what the Chantry says.”

“Pride,” Wynne said, and the single word made Callum’s blood grow cold. “You became a maleficar out of your own childish arrogance.”

Callum closed his eyes, and nodded. Suddenly, at long last, it all seemed to make sense. “I did, didn’t I?”

“You’re wrong.”

The voice seemingly came from out of nowhere, giving a jolt to almost everyone present. They all turned to see Zevran stepping out of his tent – hunched over and wincing, with one hand clutching the side of his ribcage – but on his feet nonetheless. He came over to join them as Wynne and Leliana began to protest.

“You shouldn’t be out of your tent!”

“You need rest, Zevran.”

“I’m not going to rest while you slander my dear friend in this manner,” Zevran grunted, taking a seat beside Callum and folding his arms across his injured chest. “Not while he has nobody to defend him.”

“And that’s what you plan on doing?” Wynne asked archly.

“Callum saved my life today!” Zevran reminded her hotly. “And not for the first time, I might add.”

“And he only used your blood to do it,” Alistair cut in.

“Not without my express permission!” Zevran retorted. “Even as the dragon bore down on us, Callum thought first to ask me if I would let him use my blood. It was our lives to be lost, or a mere fraction of my blood. I would make the same bargain again, if the need arose.”

Alistair shook his head in frustration. “You’re missing the point! Callum gambled with the life of a young boy for the sake of gaining power, and then lied to us all about it. And he set a criminal free in the process.”

“Need I remind you that I was an assassin? One sent to kill you all, no less. Callum spared my life, as well. It is hardly surprising he would show the same courtesy to another captive friend, no? Now, as for the arl’s son, I believe Callum worked incredibly hard to save him from the demon’s corrupting influence. Wasn’t the original plan just to kill the boy instead of travelling all the way to the Circle of Magi and obtaining their help in the matter? I recall it was Callum who insisted that we take the latter option, yes?”

“And yet,” Wynne said, “when the chance arose to bargain with the demon possessing that boy’s body, he jumped at the chance.”

“Callum threatened that demon and extracted information from it. It is rather a stretch to call such a thing a ‘bargain’, from my point of view.”

Zevran drew himself up to his fullest height – or as much as he could when his torso was still healing. “I know many of you may consider me a poor judge of character, given my background, but Callum is one of the most selfless people I have ever met. He has only ever used his magic to help others, or to protect his friends, or to make people happy. I am sure that he would never have extracted that promise from the demon unless he was absolutely certain there was no risk to Connor.”

Zevran caught Callum’s eye, and the Warden couldn’t miss the flicker of doubt in his expression. Zevran was afraid, too – just like all the others. But despite that, he was determined to remain on Callum’s side. He wanted to believe in him. And Callum couldn’t let him down.

“Whatever happens to Connor now,” he said, “I will take full responsibility. In the unlikely chance that he is possessed again – something that is a possibility for every mage, might I add – I will do everything within my power to help him, just as I did before.” He reached out to lay a hand on Zevran’s shoulder. “And Zevran is right – I use my magic to protect others, and only harm when the need arises. That goes double for blood magic. It’s a powerful tool that I have been granted and I will treat it as such. It’s my responsibility as a mage, and as a Grey Warden.” He hesitated, knowing the difficult part was ahead. “But I will understand if there are those who no longer wish to fight alongside me, knowing the truth. If some of you wish to leave our group behind, nobody here will stop you. You have that right.”

Silence fell once more between them all. Alistair was the first to get to his feet. He slowly turned from the campfire, from Callum and his companions, and shuffled lifelessly off to his tent. He never said another word. Leliana was next, but unlike Alistair, she met Callum’s eye. She held his gaze for a lengthy moment, before slowly lowering her head in a nod, and then turning away to return to her own tent.

Wynne stood. “Listen to me, Callum,” she said. “You may be a Grey Warden. You may be a powerful mage. You may be one of the few people left in this land who are capable of putting a stop to this Blight that threatens us all. But you are not a god. You’re just a boy, and nothing more.”

“I know,” he said, as she walked away. “I know...”

He felt a warm hand slip into his, and he gave it a gentle squeeze.

“I must retire now,” Zevran said, grunting as he rubbed his side gingerly. “I shouldn’t be on my feet, given the circumstances. Come find me later?”

“I will,” he told him, turning his cheek to let him plant a kiss on it. “And thank you. For all of that.”

“Consider it as a favour returned,” Zevran told him, letting his lips linger against Callum’s skin for a moment longer than the Warden had been expecting. His hand slipped from Callum’s grasp, and he was gone again, as suddenly as he had arrived. A shadow crept over Callum, and he stood as Sten drew near.

“I fail to understand what has changed,” the Qunari said. “You are still bas-saarebas now, as you have always been. There is no need for all this...talk.”

Callum gave him a wry grimace. “That’s almost kind of you.”

Sten didn’t return the expression. “Your companions are agitated by your power. Would their concerns not be abated simply by collaring you and removing your tongue, as the Qun would a saarebas of our own?”

“I’d like to see you try.”

“I will not, for I am not arvaraad. My role is unchanged. For now, I will continue along this path, as I have done.” Sten inclined his head in what was almost a nod, before marching away in silence, leaving a bemused Callum standing in his wake. He almost yelped when he felt a warm, slimy tongue brush against his hand, and glanced down to see Barkspawn at his side, licking his fingers placatingly.

“I’m glad you’d never walk out on me, boy,” he told his faithful partner, receiving a pleased bark in return. He gave Barkspawn a fond scratch behind the ears, hazarding a glance across the campfire to see a figure still sitting there, unmoved.

“Anything to say, Morrigan?” he called to his fellow mage.

“I always have something to say,” she responded.

“I’m surprised you haven’t called me a fool by now.”

“I do not think you a fool. You were reckless in entreating with a demon, yes, but I understand – and, indeed, respect – your reasons. An Arcane Warrior and maleficar both. You may be one of the most powerful mages in Ferelden – certainly one of the most unique.”

“I’m no better than anyone else,” he tried to assure her, only for her to titter.

“Is that truly what you believe?”

It’s what he needed to believe. Pride could very well be his downfall. Everyone was corruptible, and he was no different.

“Wynne said it herself: I’m just a boy.”

“And since when did you ever concern yourself with what that old woman told you?”

Callum couldn’t help but crack a smile. “I appreciate it, Morrigan. But power isn’t what I’m ultimately after, and it never will be.”

“Then what is it you do want?”

Callum puffed air out through his lips. “I don’t know – lots of things, really. Friends, companionship, a warm bed, someone to kiss, freedom for all oppressed peoples of Thedas, the Divine’s death and the subsequent dissolution of the Chantry...”

Barkspawn let out a whine, and Callum laughed as he rubbed the mabari’s head.

“Oh, and you too, of course.” He glanced back at Morrigan again. “But, right now, all I’m concerning myself with is the end of the Blight.”

“A reasonable goal,” she concluded, stretching herself out in front of the fire. “But not one so easily attained. Not without power.”

Callum rubbed his forehead. “I know. Goodnight, Morrigan.”

“‘Til the morrow.”

Zevran was splayed out in his bedroll when Callum walked in, one arm and one leg each dangling out from under the sheet. Fortunately, he was still awake, and grudgingly made space for the Warden after he’d stripped off and clambered underneath to join him. Away from the campfire, the wintery mountain air chilled Callum to the bone, and he was grateful for Zevran’s consistent warmth on nights like these. They wrapped their arms tight around one another and pressed their bodies close in a mostly-successful effort to ward off the cold.

Callum whispered in his ear. “If you hadn’t been there...I don’t know what I would have done. Zev...I’m really grateful.”

“If I hadn’t been there,” he whispered back, “you would have done just fine. You held your own very well against them. And I do not believe that my words changed anyone else’s feelings on the matter.”

“They changed mine.”

“Don’t tell me you believed what they said about you?”

Callum nestled his head in Zevran’s shoulder. “It...was difficult not to. When Wynne told me that I’d become a maleficar out of my own pride...” He sighed. “It made a lot of sense to me.”

“I’m sure she would love for you to think that.”

“You’re not wrong. But even so, I’m clearly not infallible.”

He could hear the gentle smile in Zevran’s voice when he spoke next. “Trust me, Cal – nobody here ever believed that you were.”

“Ouch,” Callum grumbled. “That’s a rather backhanded compliment.”

“It’s the truth,” Zevran insisted. “You may be our (admittedly reluctant) leader, but I don’t believe any of the others ever treated you as someone they looked upon as a superior. You’re much too...down-to-earth for that.”

“I try to be.”

“And, from my point of view, you succeeded. I only ever thought of you as a fearless warrior when we first met and clashed, and that perception was turned around once you removed your helmet.”

“Which is when you started flirting with me,” Callum pointed out.

“Indeed.” Zevran was definitely grinning openly now. “But I digress. My point was that, despite what you might think, your companions haven’t lost all faith in you. You’ve had plenty of arguments with Alistair before.”

“Since the moment we first met,” Callum muttered.

“Exactly. This is just...shall we say a ‘hurdle’ that they need to overcome?”

“They put their trust in me, Zev. And I deceived them – and you, too.”

“That may be true,” he said, “but I cannot deny you had an excellent reason to do so. Blood magic...it terrifies people.”

“Including you.” It wasn’t a question – Callum had seen the terror and confusion in Zevran’s eyes when he’d cast that spell atop the mountain.

“...I have never been one to put much stock in the views the Chantry espouses: ‘Magic is evil,’ ‘Elves are less worthy of the Maker’s love,’ ‘Do not defile the sacrament of marriage,’ and so on.” He paused. “But blood magic is...you are right – it does frighten me. When I saw you hurt yourself, saw how your own blood writhed around you like a snake...well, at first I thought I had gone into shock. But when you asked me for my blood, I knew. ‘This is real,’ I thought, ‘and it’s the only way we can save ourselves.’ So I accepted.” Zevran’s nose nuzzled against Callum’s. “And you saved my life – again. I should be thanking you.”

“I couldn’t even begin to count how many times you’ve saved mine since you joined us. I’ll thank you as much as I have to.”

Zevran chuckled. “Then, you can thank me all you want. I’m definitely in the mood to be thanked all night long.”

“Then we can thank each other,” Callum murmured in his ear, squeezing Zevran’s flesh firmly beneath his fingers. “I’ll thank you until I can thank no more.”

For all their talk, it was over relatively quickly. Exhaustion played no small part, coercing the two men into calling it an early night. As they lay tangled in one another’s limbs, sweat-soaked and no longer feeling the cold, Callum whispered in Zevran’s ear one last time.

“I’m sorry I had to use your blood like that.”

“It was the right thing to do,” he whispered back, as they drifted off to sleep. “You did well, mi amigo...

 

 

When Callum opened his eyes again to the green skies of the Fade, he groaned aloud. From somewhere nearby, there came a familiar chuckle.

“And here I thought you’d be glad to spend some time with me by now.”

Callum angrily shoved himself up off the ground and heaved himself to his feet, ignoring the demon’s words as he staggered away.

“You’d rather spend your nights overwhelmed by visions of darkspawn?” Mouse asked, behind Callum now as he tried to put some distance between himself and the demon. “I’m hurt.”

Callum tried to shut his ears to Mouse’s voice as he walked away, passing by a plethora of bizarre rock formations, the cobblestone beneath his feet changing to grass before becoming sand.  But no matter how far he walked, the demon’s voice seemed to be coming from right behind him.

“I want us to be friends, you and I. There’s no need for all this antagonism. Conflict can be so...distressing.”

The Black City hung suspended in the emerald skies, far off in the distance – Callum caught occasional glimpses of it out of the corner of his eye as he marched ever onwards. Normally, when travelling through the Fade like this, one would encounter lesser spirits – wisps, for example – floating aimlessly past, or sometimes drifting close out of a sense of curiosity. But Callum came across no such spirits now, no matter how far he seemed to walk.

No other spirits or demons will come near this place, Callum realised. This is Pride’s domain.

And, at that moment, he stepped back into the clearing that he’d woken up in, spotting Mouse standing exactly where it had been since then. Callum clenched his jaw, reluctantly walking back to where he’d been lying down and taking a seat on the ground, which became soft like a cushion beneath his body as he sat down.

“So glad you could join us after all,” Mouse said, pleasant tone doing little to disguise the taunting words as it bundled its legs under it and sat down beside the Warden.

“Not like I had much of a choice,” Callum grumbled.

“Why, there is always a choice.” Mouse sounded convincingly offended at his words. “You can join my power with yours, or you can die.”

“I’ve been doing quite well so far without becoming an abomination, thank you.”

“Have you?” Mouse raised a slender eyebrow. “Is that what you call almost dying to a dragon’s claws? Almost losing the ones you care most about? You exposed yourself as a maleficar for them – why not take that final step?”

“It’s more like a giant leap than a small step,” Callum retorted. “Sacrificing my freedom, my autonomy over my thoughts and actions? I don’t want that.”

Mouse sighed. “You claim to be sceptical of what the Chantry teaches you, and yet you spout their propaganda unquestioningly when challenged. My possessing you will change you as it will change me, there’s no doubt about that. But you won’t lose control over yourself. Think of it as a metamorphosis: as a larva grows wings and learns to fly, so too will you grow and gain power beyond your imagining.”

“I saw what happened to Uldred,” Callum said. “That won’t happen to me. Not now. Not ever.”

Mouse shrugged. “Uldred was weak. Possession is not for everyone – it’s far too easy for the small-minded to lose themselves to power overwhelming. But you, Callum Amell, are different. I saw promise in you during your Harrowing, and you haven’t yet disappointed me.”

“Then allow me to disappoint you now.” Callum shifted position, turning around to face the demon, still wearing the form of the ‘apprentice’. “I won’t become an abomination. I can end this Blight without your help.”

Mouse gave him a pitying look that made Callum’s stomach turn. “Is that the truth? Two Grey Wardens against the horde makes for difficult odds – even for one as powerful as you.”

“We’re building an army,” Callum reminded it. “The Dalish, the Circle, and soon we’ll have the soldiers of Redcliffe and the dwarven army with us, as well. We won’t fail.”

“But why not take every precaution possible to ensure your victory? You became an Arcane Warrior, and then a maleficar, all for the sake of furthering your own strength in order to end the Blight. You could become one of– no, the most powerful mage in all of Thedas. Far beyond any Witch of the Wilds or Tevinter magister.”

“I wouldn’t be a mage anymore. I wouldn’t be myself.”

“That is such a narrow-minded way of looking at it,” Mouse said with a tut. “Leliana has told you tales of Flemeth, and Morrigan has provided her own side of the story – you know that she owes her powers not to any natural ability, but to a demon she accepted into her heart centuries ago.”

“You don’t know that any more than I do. And even if it were true, why would I ever want to be like Flemeth? She’s a strange, old hag who lives on the outskirts of the world. Not how I see myself ending up.”

“And how do you see yourself ending up?” Mouse asked. “I suspect you have some plans for after the Blight?”

“I hadn’t really thought much about it,” Callum admitted. He doubted he’d stay in Ferelden, unless he was made to. But where could he go as an apostate and a maleficar? The Joining ritual had changed his life for good: even if he were to leave the Grey Wardens, little would change. He’d still have the nightmares, and the darkspawn would be drawn to him as he was to them.

“No matter what you do,” Mouse carried on, “or where you go, your time is limited.”

“As is everyone’s.”

“You know full well what I’m referring to. Alistair told you the corruption in your blood would give you three decades to live. I offer an alternative.”

Callum frowned at the demon. “You don’t seriously expect me to believe that possession will cure my body of the darkspawn taint?”

“And why not? With my power bound to yours, and our knowledge pooled together, we could achieve feats of blood magic once thought impossible. We could eradicate the taint from your body, utterly removing that which makes you a Grey Warden. You would be free to live as you choose – free of the Blight and the darkspawn for good. What say you?”

Callum sighed. “I won’t pretend it’s not a tempting idea.”

Mouse flashed a wicked grin. “Then-?”

“But it isn’t worth the cost,” Callum cut in. “I became a Grey Warden knowing there would be consequences. I wouldn’t feel right knowing I’d cheated the darkspawn corruption that so many of my peers have succumbed to.”

Mouse’s grin had sunk into a cold sneer. “How noble. And how foolish. You’d be better served forgetting about them all – your companions, the Grey Wardens, the Blight...all of it. None of it matters compared to the strength you could hold with my help.”

“We’re done talking.”

Mouse sighed, a snide smirk curling its lips. “Very well, then. I’ll let you return to your dreams of darkspawn. Until next time...”

As darkness swallowed his vision, the last thing Callum heard was the demon’s deep, merciless chuckle.

Chapter Text

To the great relief of everyone, Andraste’s Sacred Ashes worked exactly as intended: Arl Eamon awoke almost immediately after receiving them, and was on his feet again less than a day later. If nothing else, Callum admired his tenacity, and the arl made it clear from the outset that he took both the threat of the Blight and of Loghain very seriously. The moment he could stand, he gathered everyone into the castle’s audience chamber to address them. He insisted upon naming Callum and his companions champions of Redcliffe for their efforts in saving him and his family, before Bann Teagan drew his attention back to the matter at hand.

“Loghain instigates a civil war even though the darkspawn are on our very doorstep,” Eamon said, still sounding incredulous at the notion. “Long I have known him. He is a sensible man; one who never desired power.”

“I was there when he announced he was taking control of the throne, Eamon,” Teagan said.

“And at Ostagar he allowed the king’s army, along with the Grey Wardens, to fall to the horde,” Callum reminded them. “He betrayed his king and family. Cailan’s blood, and the blood of the Wardens of Ferelden, stains his hands.”

Eamon’s eyes were grave as they met Callum’s. “Indeed. And he very nearly added my own body to the mountain of corpses he has created. Whatever happened to him, Loghain must be stopped. What’s more, we can scarce afford to fight this war to its bitter end.”

Callum glanced over towards Alistair, who was frowning deeply at the arl. It had been his idea to come to Redcliffe and seek the arl’s aid from the beginning, and during all the time, he’d been convinced that Eamon would provide all the help they’d need to stop Loghain. This wasn’t quite the good news they had been expecting.

“But...you can unite the nobility against Loghain, can’t you?” he asked.

“I could unite those opposing Loghain, yes,” Eamon replied. “But not all oppose him. He has some very powerful allies.” The arl turned and began pacing steadily across the width of the hall, weighing up his options even as he spoke. “We have no time to wage a campaign against him. Someone must surrender if Ferelden is to have any chance to fighting the darkspawn.”

Alistair still looked forlorn. “But...once everyone learns what he’s done...”

“I will spread word of Loghain’s treachery,” Eamon reassured him, “both here and against the king. But it will be but a claim made without proof. Those claims will give Loghain’s allies pause, but we must combine it with a challenge Loghain cannot ignore.”

Callum almost swore aloud. He should have known things wouldn’t have been so easy even with Arl Eamon on their side. He had no clue about how Ferelden politics worked, and he’d naively bought into the idea (along with Alistair) that the kingdom would turn against Loghain once his wicked deeds had been exposed.

Eamon turned again, this time to face the hearth at the head of the hall. “We need someone with a stronger claim to the throne than Loghain’s daughter, the queen.”

That time, Callum really did swear – albeit under his breath. So that was the arl’s game – supplant Loghain’s regime with one loyal to himself? And there was only one person Eamon could have had in mind for that role...

“Are you referring to Alistair, brother? Are you certain?”

“I would not propose such a thing if we had an alternative. But the unthinkable has occurred.”

Callum swallowed bitterly as he caught Alistair’s eye. The other Warden looked stunned, and even somewhat frightened. He was just twenty years old – a handful of months older than Callum himself. Neither of them were old enough to lead an entire kingdom. Callum didn’t even think he was all that good at leading the party.

Eamon seemed to notice their scepticism, for he added an explanation. “Teagan and I have a claim through marriage, but we would seem opportunists – no better than Loghain. Alistair’s claim is by blood.”

Callum folded his arms and stared down the arl. “And you don’t think marching into Denerim and producing the late king’s bastard son as an heir to the throne to challenge Loghain would be seen as ‘opportunistic’?”

A grim smile tugged at the arl’s mouth. “No doubt Loghain’s supporters will insist so, no matter who we propose as heir. But Alistair’s claim would be the most legitimate – he is the only surviving heir to the Theirin bloodline, descended directly from Calenhad the Great. The Theirins have ruled Ferelden for centuries: the Landsmeet could be more easily persuaded to support us with Alistair as our proposed heir.”

“And what about me?” Alistair demanded. “Does anyone care what I want?”

Eamon’s head swivelled as he faced Alistair, his expression shifting to an all-too convincing one of concern. “You have a responsibility, Alistair.” Even his voice had grown more gentle. “Without you, Loghain wins. I would have to support him, for the sake of Ferelden. Is that what you want?”

Alistair’s mouth hung open numbly as he stammered. “I...but, I...” He squeezed his eyes shut briefly, sucking in a sharp breath. “No, my lord,” he added in a small voice, sounding utterly defeated.

Callum’s temper flared at the sight. He’d wondered for a while now what had made Alistair so keen to please the man who had made him sleep in the stables for his entire childhood, so desperate to help him in any way he could, and now it was all beginning to make sense; Eamon didn’t care about Alistair, the boy he’d supposedly raised as he would his own son. No, he cared about Alistair, the potential future king of Ferelden who needed to be utterly loyal to him, or else he was of no use at all.

“Pardon me, my lord,” Callum said, trying to keep the scorn out of his voice, “but what in Andraste’s name make you think Alistair would make a good king?” Ignoring the glare he knew he was receiving out of the corner of his eye, Callum forged on. “He’s a Grey Warden – a warrior, not a ruler. And, what’s more, he’s very young.”

Eamon grimaced. “Young, maybe, but not too young. His grandfather’s grandfather, Brandon Theirin, assumed the throne at the age of twelve. But he was guided by his loyal advisers – most notably by a regent...”

“And that’s the mantle you plan to take up?” Callum accused.

Eamon nodded, although his frown told Callum that he hadn’t missed the pointed tone. “Indeed. I know well the ins and outs of Ferelden politics, what makes a good king – a strong king. My guidance will ensure Alistair’s reign will be a fair one.”

“The royal advisor to a warrior king. I’m sure many men in Ferelden would be eager to assume a role so influential.”

The arl’s eyes narrowed. “You believe I am making a grasp for power.”

“I can’t think of any other reason why you would want Alistair on the throne.”

“We are without any other option,” Eamon said firmly. “Alistair may be a warrior, yes – and a Grey Warden, also – but he is the last of the Theirin bloodline. And what’s more, I have taught him much of the ways of politics whilst I raised him here in Redcliffe-”

“You didn’t raise him,” Callum cut in, “you made him sleep in the castle stables and sent him off to the Chantry the moment the opportunity presented itself! I can’t imagine there was much time for teaching him ‘the ways of politics’!”

Eamon scowled down at him from his place at the top of the hall. “Hold your tongue. You know not of what you speak, boy.”

Callum almost roared aloud with frustration. He wanted to shout and scream at the arl, to tell him he was a despicable old man who was taking advantage of someone who relied on him and trusted him, someone whom he’d treated like dirt from such a young age. He wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him until his wisened face showed an appropriate amount of fear.

Instead, he clenched his teeth, and muttered, “Fine,” before turning on his heel and marching out of the hall, ignoring the confused and upset calls of his companions as he left.

 

 

Callum stormed through the castle halls, armour clanking heavily, drawing bewildered looks from guards and servants alike as he swept past. He had no idea where he was even going, and so merely took to wandering the corridors, feeling for all the world like an overgrown child throwing a tantrum. He hadn’t felt so angry – so utterly indignant – since the last time he’d been within this castle’s walls: when he’d confronted the first enchanter over his manipulations. And the way the arl had spoken just now reminded Callum all too much of Irving’s many lectures. It was enough to make him grind his teeth out of sheer frustration. It seemed to him as though all of Ferelden were run by withering old men who treated the people around them like pawns and disposed of them once no longer needed. Maybe the kingdom would be better off with people like Alistair on the throne – someone guileless to a fault, who ruled with an open heart and a gentle mind. Or maybe they’d all be better off with no rulers at all; no throne and no one with any ambition to claim it, and thus no civil war and nothing to stop the land from uniting against the darkspawn at last. Callum had already had more than enough of scheming nobles and violent hierarchy.

He felt his pace slowing, coming to a stop as his anger began to peter out – ceasing to be a white-hot rage that filled him up and made his blood simmer, and returning to an icy-cool rock that lodged itself in his chest, as it had been every day of his life. Would he ever stop being angry? Would the world ever give him reason not to be?

He was called out of his furious thoughts by the sound of heavy footsteps behind him. Callum turned, expecting to see one of the arl’s loyal guards approaching him, demanding he return to the audience chamber. Instead, he saw Alistair marching towards him, a scowl plainly visible on his face as he half-ran down the hallway.

“What in Andraste’s name do you think you’re doing?!” Alistair demanded, coming to a halt roughly ten feet from Callum and standing there, folding his arms over his armoured chest. “We want Arl Eamon to help us, remember? And here you are, antagonising him and storming out of his chambers during a vital meeting!”

“I’m not stopping you from having your meeting,” Callum shot back, unable to stop himself from assuming a biting tone. “You and the others can organise with the arl all you want – I’ll have no part in it.”

“You’re supposed to be our leader!”

“According to who, exactly? You?”

“We all decided that!” Alistair reminded him. “Including you, reluctantly or not. You’re the one who’s made all our big decisions so far, so what’s the problem now?”

“The problem,” Callum said, as slowly and clearly as he could, “is that your friend the arl is a manipulative, greedy worm of a man who expects us to collaborate with him in his grasp for power.”

Alistair bared his teeth in a snarl. “You don’t know him! Not like I do.”

“Flames, Al! Open your eyes – Eamon is using you!”

“Eamon trusts me!” Alistair retorted. “I trust him! I thought you understood that.”

Callum gestured down the corridor in the vague direction of the arl’s audience chamber. “What I saw in that chamber – when he started talking down to you once you showed signs of dissent? That wasn’t trust. It wasn’t anything like it.”

“Eamon wants what’s best for Ferelden,” Alistair insisted.

“He wants what’s best for himself! It just so happens that his goal allows him to help with ours.”

“Even if that were true, so what? You’ve always said you’d do whatever it takes to stop the Blight – even becoming a blood-!” Alistair broke off, glancing cautiously behind him before turning back to Callum and continuing in a lowered voice. “Even becoming a blood mage! Why now are you kicking in your heels like this?”

“Because...” Callum blew air out through his nose. “Because I’ve seen what men like Eamon do with power in their hands. And I’ve seen what happens to the people who suffer because of that power. This civil war might give us the chance to change that – even a little bit. I won’t let that chance slip from our grasp by allowing Eamon to take control.”

Alistair scoffed. “So you’re planning on taking advantage of the civil war to advance your own agenda, too? What makes that any different from what you accuse Eamon of doing?”

Callum grit his teeth so hard they ached. “Because, Al, I genuinely care about the people of Ferelden. The downtrodden – mages, elves, the impoverished. Eamon won’t do anything to help them, and you know it! He’s a man who lives by the status quo – that’s why he opposes Loghain.”

“We’re Grey Wardens, Cal. We’re not supposed to get involved in politics.”

“And yet you’re letting Eamon push you into becoming king! How much more ‘involved in politics’ can you possibly get?”

Alistair broke eye contact, forehead still creased in a heavy frown. Callum pressed on.

“Loghain is the one who forced this on us by destroying the Wardens at Ostagar. We can’t avoid getting involved in what happens to Ferelden now – the least we can do is steer it in the right direction.”

“And what direction might that be?”

“That’s not up for me to decide.”

Alistair threw his hands up. “I don’t understand you at all. One day, you’re learning forbidden magic to enhance your own power, and the next, you’re claiming you don’t want any power of your own? What’s the truth, Cal? What do you want?”

“What I want,” the Warden said, “is the same as I’ve always wanted. I want the people of Ferelden to live freely – not under the fear of darkspawn, templars, the Chantry, or rulers who’ve never spent a day amongst the common folk. Everything I do, as a Grey Warden and a mage, is to help make that dream come true. Arl Eamon would oppose all of that.”

“I already told you – you don’t know him.”

“I know his ilk,” Callum snapped. “Men like Eamon can be found wherever you go.”

“You’re wrong about him. Arl Eamon is...he’s...” Alistair inhaled sharply, as though making an effort to calm himself. “He took me in when nobody else would or could. A bastard son of a serving girl – he could have had me thrown out on the street, especially when the arlessa made her feelings known. But he didn’t.”

“But you never really belonged here, did you? Sleeping in the stables, or with the dogs. Did he ever step in to stop Isolde when she was tormenting you? Or did he just do the bare minimum and send you away the moment he was able?”

Alistair’s frown had given way to an expression of sorrow and confusion. “It’s...you’re not...he wouldn’t...”

“I know what it’s like, Al. To love someone, to trust them as your family, only to have them never show you the same level of respect in return. My grandfather...I was nothing more than a tool to him. He sent me away, as well, once he knew I would never live up to his expectations. I know what it’s like to be used by someone like that. I don’t want the same to happen to you. You deserve better.”

Alistair’s head had lowered, and a shadow had fallen over his face. When he spoke, his voice cracked.

“I don’t have anyone else. No parents, no family. The Wardens are all gone, too. Everyone who ever cared about me is...” He let out the sigh of a man twice his age. “I’ll never get them back.”

And despite everything, despite all the anger and hurt still looming inside him like a weight on his chest, Callum crossed the distance between them and took Alistair by the shoulders, his hands closing over the mail as he pulled Alistair close.

“I’m sorry, Al. I really am.”

Alistair’s watery eyes met Callum’s. “How...how did it get like this? After Ostagar, when we decided we were going to stop Loghain and the Blight...it’s ridiculous to say it, but...”

“It seemed so simple at the time?” Callum finished for him, and Alistair choked a laugh.

“Foolishness, I know. It was never going to be simple.” Alistair sniffed. “I hate politics.”

“Me too, Al.”

“Suppose...suppose you’re right. About the arl, I mean. What do we do? He understands how the nobles operate, and he’s well-connected and influential. I know you don’t want to hear it, Cal, but Eamon’s our only hope of stopping Loghain.”

“I know.” Callum felt a lump in his own throat begin to form. “I hate it. But you’re right. Maybe I shouldn’t have stormed out like I did, but...” He shook his head. “I couldn’t stand hearing him talk to you like that. The same way First Enchanter Irving would talk to me. I know better than to let old men like him take advantage of people. I lost my temper.” He paused, before asking, “Are you really sure you want to do this? You never wanted to be king.”

“You never wanted to lead our little group, either,” Alistair remarked with a shrug.

“There’s a big fucking difference, Al, and you know it.”

“Alright, alright, fine. It was a bad comparison. What I mean is that you knew it was the right thing to do, in that situation. The majority’s needs mattered more than your personal feelings.”

“Once the Blight’s over,” Callum said, “I won’t be leading us anymore. This was always going to be only a temporary measure. Becoming king is...a much bigger deal.”

Alistair’s eyes fluttered shut. “I know. But I’m a Grey Warden.”

“And stopping the Blight comes first,” Callum concluded. “Would you really throw your own happiness away for the greater good?”

“I think so,” Alistair said. “The question is, would you?”

Callum sighed. “You already know the answer to that.”

“Then it sounds as though we’re agreed. Can we...?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes.”

Callum let go of Alistair and the two stepped apart at last, the other Warden blinking the tears out of his eyes before they’d had a chance to spill over.

“Sorry,” Alistair said. “About...all that.” He cracked a shaky grin. “This is the first time we’ve said more than five words to each other since leaving Haven, you know. A shouting match in the middle of the keep.”

“Would you expect anything less from either one of us?”

“I suppose not.” Alistair shook his head in bemusement. “What a pair, eh? Some ‘last hope for Ferelden’ we turned out to be.”

“It’s not over yet,” Callum reminded him. “We haven’t even made use of all our treaties yet.”

Alistair cheered without any enthusiasm. “I, for one, can’t wait to find out what excuse Orzammar gives us when we come knocking. ‘Oh, the Grey Wardens are here? Sorry, our copy of the treaty fell into a pit of boiling lava three centuries ago! Looks like you’ll have to venture through the Deep Roads to try and find another dwarven city to request aid from!’”

Callum giggled, and Alistair joined in with a laugh of his own. When the laughter had died, Alistair fixed him with a far more serious look.

“I still haven’t forgiven you. You know, for lying to us and becoming a maleficar?”

Callum grimaced, his heart sinking slightly. “Ah. Well, I can’t say I particularly blame you.”

“But I’m willing to put that behind us, for now. Even if I can’t forgive you, I can still trust you. You’re my friend, Cal, and my ally in this war. We can’t afford to be at each other’s throats anymore.”

“Thanks,” Callum murmured. “Really, Al...I was surprised you didn’t leave like Wynne did.”

The party had woken up on the morning after slaying the high dragon only to find that their camp was now one tent short; the healer had departed in the middle of the night, taking all of her belongings with her. They hadn’t seen her again. Alistair had been the closest to Wynne, and he’d taken it the hardest. Even now, at the mention of her name, his expression turned downcast.

“I couldn’t do that. Royal bastard or no, I’m a Grey Warden until the day I die. Not even you turning to blood magic could sway me from this path we’re on.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask what could?”

Alistair grimaced. “Then let’s hope we don’t find out, shall we?”

“Fair point.” A moment of silence passed between them. “We should probably head back. Eamon needs us as much as we need him. I promise not to throw any more tantrums.”

Alistair shook his head, turning his back and walking back down the corridor the way he’d come. “You weren’t throwing a tantrum. You need to stop letting those mean thoughts in that head of yours get to you.”

Callum blinked, picking up the pace in order to catch up with his friend. “That...may be the wisest thing you’ve said to me, yet.”

Alistair barked a laugh. “Well, maybe I’ll make a decent king, after all?”

Chapter Text

The bleak midwinter of Haring brought with it viciously cold winds, much to the misery of Callum and most of his companions. To make matters worse, their next destination was buried beneath the Frostback Mountains, meaning that they had to trudge their way through the frozen peaks to reach it. The Imperial Highway had taken them away from the banks of the now-frozen Lake Calenhad, branching off towards the Orlesian border and, according to their map, would pass by Orzammar almost directly. Callum hoped fervently that the dwarven city was as warm as he’d heard it was – supposedly it was kept heated by molten rock that lay beneath the surface. He’d wrapped up as warmly as he could while still wearing his armour, aware that he probably looked a little ridiculous buried underneath so much fabric.

Suppressing a shiver as yet another icy gust blew through him, Callum cast a glance through watering eyes at the Qunari walking alongside him. Sten was wearing nothing more than he usually did, and hadn’t even put on his helmet, leaving his stone-grey head on full display. Callum couldn’t even tell if the winds were bothering him, since Sten’s expression rarely if ever shifted from one of general unimpressed disgust.

Callum must have been staring for longer than he’d thought, for the Qunari’s hard eyes flickered in his direction.

“Yes?” Sten grunted.

Callum shook his head. “I was just wondering how you handle the cold. Doesn’t it bother you?”

Sten turned his gaze back on the road ahead. “No,” he answered eventually.

“I don’t know much about Par Vollen,” Callum went on, “but I’m sure it’s a lot warmer there than it is here. I’ve lived in Ferelden most of my life and I’m not even used to this sort of weather.” Callum cast a nervous glance up at the troubled grey clouds above, fearing another snowfall would soon follow. “I just didn’t think you’d have adjusted so quickly.”

“It is simply weather,” Sten muttered. “It cannot be changed. There is nothing to be...bothered by.” He paused, before adding, “Asit tal-eb.

Callum blinked. “As it...what?”

“It is a principle of the Qun. It means...” Callum didn’t fail to miss the way Sten’s jaw clenched as he hesitated. “‘It is to be.’”

So the giant man was clearly bothered by something – not the weather, but something else. Did he not like speaking the trade tongue?

“‘It is to be,’” Callum echoed. “As in, ‘that’s the way things are’?”

“...That is an approximation, but yes.”

“That does sound like a principle of the Qun. ‘Don’t try to change anything –that’s just the way things are.’”

“Do not try and twist our words, bas. The Qun’s teachings are not up for reinterpretation. They are the solid stone we Qunari build our entire lives upon.”

“If nothing is allowed to change, how can anything grow?”

“You understand nothing of our ways.”

“Then tell me,” Callum insisted.

“I...” Again, that clench in his jaw. “I do not think that I should.”

“And why not?”

“It is not my role. I am Sten, of the Beresaad. I am not of the Ben-Hassrath; it is not my place to teach.”

“Is that your decision, or the Qun’s?”

“They are the same. I follow the Qun.”

It was like trying to negotiate with stone, Callum thought. Silence fell between them as Callum fumed quietly, the crunch of footfalls on the snowy ground the only noise to be heard.

“You puzzle me, Warden,” Sten said, breaking the silence (possibly for the first time in his life). “It is the nature of those born outside of the Qun to lash out and try to change that which cannot be changed – this I can accept, even if I do not understand. But you have gone further than most in your struggles by becoming a warrior despite being born a mage.”

“I’m still a mage,” Callum reminded him. “And that, admittedly, cannot change.” Not without being made Tranquil.

“Yes, that is the part that puzzles me.” Sten paused. “A person’s role under the Qun is decided, in part, when they are born. Their genitals are measured as an infant, and it is decided whether the child is male or female. But there are those under the Qun whom we refer to as ‘aqun-athlok’ – those who reject the gender that was decided for them at birth.”

“And I suppose the Qun forces them to stick to the gender they were given?”

“Quite the contrary,” Sten told him. “The Qun acknowledges that gender is secondary to one’s role. Someone who was believed to be a woman, but chooses the path of the warrior, is considered a man no different than I.”

“What makes you bring this up?”

“It is possible that you are, in some respect, similar to the aqun-athlok. You were born a mage, but chose the path of the warrior.”

Callum shook his head. “It’s not the same. It was decided when I was born that I was male, and I’ve lived that way my entire life. I became an Arcane Warrior to combat the Blight. I am mage and warrior both, just as the ancient elves of Arlathan were. It has nothing to do with my gender.”

“That is what I find difficult to understand.”

Callum threw his arms up. “I don’t understand a lot of things, either, Sten. But that doesn’t mean I can’t accept them. You could learn a thing or two from that.”

“You lash out at your Chantry for its treatment of mages. You lash out at your fellow humans for their treatment of elves. You lash out at your leaders for their treatment of those subordinate to them. You ‘accept’ nothing.”

Callum’s temper flared. “There’s nothing ‘natural’ about how those with power treat those they view as inferior to them. It is a hierarchy people created, and it’s one we can destroy.”

“And that is what you hope to accomplish?”

“Yes.”

Sten was quiet for a moment. “Perhaps there is wisdom in that.”

Callum raised a scornful eyebrow at him. “That sounds rather treasonous to me. Isn’t the Qun all about hierarchy and knowing one’s immutable role within it?”

“Not in the way you seem to think. The Arishok leads the Antaam as the head rules the body. But he is no more important than a single karasaad, just as one’s head is no more important than one’s heart. Without each of its required parts, a body cannot function. Whether Arishok or karasaad, we are all born as squalling babes and we all rot away when we die.” Sten glowered. “But in this land, it is not the same. An ‘arl’ can treat his soldiers as lesser to the point of being disposable, despite the fact that without them, he would have no army at all. Your Chantry has its clerics, just as the Qunari have tamassrans. But this so-called ‘Divine’ who leads them is considered to have greater inherent value than those subordinate to her. The Ariqun is nothing without the tamassrans. I do not understand why it is so different here.”

Callum blinked, his anger having dwindled in the wake of Sten’s speech. “That...was a lot of words. Good words, in fact.”

“I have been saving them up.”

“And now a joke, too?” Callum gaped. “I was beginning to think those were forbidden under the Qun, as well.”

“Nothing of the sort.”

“Well, in a surprising turn of events, I don’t disagree with what you said. Arls, banns, teyrns – all of them owe their power and influence to the common people. Truthfully, from what I understand of Ferelden, it isn’t supposed to be much different from what you’ve described of the Qun; nobles and gentry are not afforded preferential treatment, and have a responsibility to protect and serve their freeholders and patrons.” Callum grimaced. “At least, in theory. In practise, well...you’ve seen with your own eyes how the nobility live in comparison to the common people of Ferelden.”

“Under the Qun, such frivolous titles would be done away with. The viddathari – converts to our ways, humans and elves alike – are accepted as our own, unquestioningly. All are equal under the Qun.”

Callum looked at Sten, feeling a peculiar warmth in his chest. It sounded incredible, truth be told: a world where there were no nobles or commoners and all everyone had their own role to play. But that warmth turned to ice in his chest at the thought of how Qunari mages were treated, or of how one’s role was all but decided for them, and he scoffed and turned away.

“Maybe you should be one of the Ben-Hassrath,” Callum told him. “I think you almost persuaded me for a moment, there.”

Sten lowered his head slowly, as though in a nod. “It is a shame. You would have been of great use to the Qun.”

“Collared and mutilated until I became nothing more than a weapon to be pointed at your enemies?” Callum grit his teeth. “I think not.”

Sten remained silent, but didn’t look away from Callum for some time. Was he disappointed, or angry? Ashamed, or apathetic? Even now, the Qunari was impossible to read.

Forget him, Callum thought, turning his eyes back on the road. His ways could never be Callum’s ways. Callum would achieve freedom on his own terms, not those of the Qun. Or he’d die trying.

 

 

They were still half a day’s march from Orzammar when they came to a halt that night, unable to progress any further after the evening sunlight had vanished behind the darkening clouds. They set up camp, lit the fire, and huddled around it in an effort to ward off the night chill. Zevran had sat beside Callum and was entwining their fingers together, content with staying silent in each other’s company.

Alistair was talking now about Orzammar, explaining to anyone who was listening what little he knew of the great underground city. He talked about how the dwarves faced the darkspawn threat encroaching on what little remained of their former empire constantly – with their only reprieve being, ironically enough, during a Blight. Alistair was hopeful that the dwarves would understand, better than most people on the surface, just how grave of a threat the Blight would be to Ferelden, and beyond. Furthermore, he reasoned that the lack of darkspawn underground meant that the dwarves would have plenty of soldiers to spare, and therefore more troops to add to their army. Callum wasn’t quite so optimistic, but he was pleased to see that Alistair had improved his outlook since the two of them had had their big argument in Redcliffe.

Arl Eamon had been convinced to ‘forgive’ Callum’s interruption of their strategy meeting, and even though the mere thought of the man made Callum’s jaw clench, he’d agreed to the arl’s scheme. They would travel to Denerim, upon returning from Orzammar, and partake in the Landsmeet by propping up Alistair as heir to the throne...

Callum glanced over at Alistair, who was standing tall and upright, armour glinting in the firelight, still talking at length about what to do upon arriving at Orzammar. It struck him, then, that perhaps Alistair’s change in behaviour was to do with him realising that he could potentially be crowned king soon. Was he trying to demonstrate his leadership qualities – which he’d fervently denied ever having, previously? Was he trying to convince himself, more than anyone else? With the fire illuminating his face like a torchlight, Callum thought he looked rather like Cailan had looked, when the two of them had met in Ostagar, so long ago.

“Does anyone have any questions before I turn in for the evening?” Alistair asked, glancing around the group, eyes lingering warily on Morrigan as though afraid she’d fire a sarcastic comment his way. But not even Morrigan had anything to say – in fact, the witch had been rather quiet of late. As had Leliana, who was currently staring numbly into the fire as though plumbing its depths for something important.

“No...?” Alistair shrugged, his steady posture relaxing at last as he became more like the man Callum was used to seeing. “Well, I suppose I’ll say ‘goodnight’, then.”

“Thank you, Al,” Callum said, more in an attempt to reassure his friend that he understood what he was trying to do than out of gratitude for anything Alistair had actually said. “See you in the morning.”

With Alistair gone, the camp gradually dispersed. Zevran informed Callum that he was tired and needed to rest, kissing him gently on the cheek before making for his tent. Barkspawn lingered faithfully at Callum’s other side, as usual. Before too long, it was only the two of them left, sitting opposite to Morrigan and adjacent to Leliana. Callum glanced at the former bard, who was still examining the fire intently.

“Is everything alright, Leliana?”

Her head turned slightly in his direction, but her eyes remained rooted where they were. “Hmm? Oh, yes, thank you.”

“...Are you certain?” He edged closer to her, Barkspawn following in his wake. “You’ve been acting a bit distant, lately.” That was hardly a surprise – she most likely hadn’t forgiven him for what had happened the last time they’d visited the Frostbacks. “I understand not wanting to spend time with me, but what about the others?”

“What?” She frowned for a moment. “Oh...I see. No, I’m not fretting over what happened after the Temple of Sacred Ashes – not anymore. Before, yes, I was shocked and afraid. But, now that I’ve been made to confront myself once again...” She shook her head gently. “It is difficult for me to criticise you.”

Callum folded his arms tightly over his chest as a sharp gust of cold wind blew past them. “This is about Marjolaine.”

Leliana nodded. “After we killed her, I...was elated, at first. I felt relieved – like a pair of shackles on my feet had just been removed. I was free, now, of the threat that had hovered over my head since before leaving Orlais. I could at last be who I truly wanted to be.” Her head lowered, eyes dropping to the ground by her feet. “But then, I realised...I don’t know who I truly want to be anymore. Maybe I never really did in the first place.”

“What do you mean?”

“As a bard, I felt like I was making a difference – all the power-plays and schemes and dalliances and whatnot, they made me feel as though I was a part of something greater. Something that mattered. But that illusion was shattered when Marjolaine betrayed me. So I came here, to Ferelden, and started a new life. I buried myself in my work as a Chantry sister, aiding those who needed my help, speaking the Chant, and proclaiming the Maker’s word to all who would listen. And when I heard the Maker calling me, I obeyed His will. I thought – I believed – that what I was doing was what I truly wanted.” Callum noticed her jaw move, as though she were grinding her teeth together. “But then Marjolaine returned, telling me all the things I didn’t want to believe about myself.” She lifted her eyes to meet Callum’s gaze. “You were there, too. You heard her...the things she said...”

Callum remembered all too well the women clad in Orlesian fineries, who’d simpered at Leliana and murmured poisonous words in her ear.

No one will understand you the way I do, because we are one and the same.

The two of them had silenced her together – Leliana with an arrow to her forehead and Callum with a blade through her throat. Marjolaine’s smug smile had given way to a grimace of shock and horror as her mouth filled with blood, and she’d toppled to the floor, already dead before she’d hit the ground.

“Marjolaine used you,” Callum reminded Leliana. “And she’d gladly have done so again, had you let her. You can’t believe anything that someone like that says about you. She was a sick, dangerous person, and you’re better off now that she’s gone.”

The corners of Leliana’s mouth turned upwards slightly at his words. “You are very kind to say such things. But, it is difficult for me to ignore what she told me, all the same. Marjolaine was my mentor, my dear friend...even my lover. She knew exactly who and what I was – what I am.”

“Nobody knows you better than you, Leliana.”

“Do you think so?” she asked in a small voice. “The lies we tell others are nothing compared to the lies we tell ourselves.”

“I don’t believe that,” Callum said. “And, what’s more, I don’t put any stock in this ‘nature’ thing you seem to be so fixated on. Your actions are what shape you, not your ‘true self’. People are defined by the things they do. When you left Orlais and joined the Chantry, you were trying to put that life of violence and danger behind you. That’s not something many people could do – certainly not someone like Marjolaine. You’re nothing like her.”

Leliana turned away from him, her gaze returning to the campfire once again. “I...hope you are right.” She sighed – a small, wistful exhalation like a note of music. “I joined your cause because I believed the Maker was speaking to me Himself – telling me to save Ferelden from the Blight.”

“And what do you believe, now?”

“In truth,” she whispered, “I don’t know.”

And with that, Leliana got to her feet. She reached out a hand to rest on Callum’s shoulder, lingering there briefly, and Callum felt as though he understood what she was trying to communicate. And then, she was gone, passing by him without a word and making for her tent.

The moment Leliana had disappeared inside, Morrigan practically leaped into action.

“Finally!” she hissed. “I had thought your discussion would carry on for hours!”

Callum blinked. “Is something the matter?”

“Yes, something is most definitely the matter!” Morrigan brushed a stray strand of hair out of her eyes, which Callum could see now were lined, as though the witch had been sleeping roughly recently. “There is a matter of most vital importance which I need to inform you of.”

“You...need my help?”

“I do,” Morrigan told him, licking her lips nervously. “Otherwise, I would not have come to you with this request for your assistance.”

“Morrigan...” Callum frowned at her, more than a little surprised at seeing her so distressed. “What’s wrong?”

She inhaled deeply, before murmuring, “It’s about my mother’s grimoire...”

Chapter Text

Callum swore under his breath as he twisted and turned, limbs caught in the blanket, trapped as though in a spider’s web. He was naked beneath the sheets, as ever, but his sweat stuck to him like a second skin and made him feel as though he were clad from head to toe in heavy, clammy furs. Half-formed images danced in front of his eyelids like shadows as he tried desperately to sleep. Memories came to him in feverish flashes, and Callum found himself thinking of that night – just over a week ago – when Morrigan had asked of him a terrible favour...

“You must kill my mother,” Morrigan said to him, her voice desperate and imperious. “Else, I fear, she shall soon come for me and steal my body for herself.”

“I...I don’t...” Callum gaped. “You want me to kill her? She’s the only family you’ve got!”

“And it pains me to request this,” Morrigan assured him, “but I have little other choice. ‘Tis me or her who must be eliminated, and I shan’t back down without a fight. I will not...” She swallowed, before taking a calming breath. “I will not lose myself. Certainly not to her.”

“Morrigan,” Callum said, as evenly as he could, “are you sure about this?”

She raised an eyebrow at him archly. “Would I be discussing this with you were I not absolutely convinced this was the only option?”

“I...suppose not, no.”

“Then it is settled?”

Callum sighed. “I...yes, Morrigan. I’ll do it. I’ll kill Flemeth for you.”

But when he met her eyes again, they had turned shiny and black, like an insect’s. Her smiling mouth opened to reveal row after row of sharpened teeth, dripping with saliva and bile. Callum cried out as Morrigan’s beautiful face melted away, festering like rotten meat, and she lunged for his neck, maw opening wide for the feed-

Callum lurched awake, biting down on his tongue in a half-successful attempt to suppress his panicked yelp. It was just another nightmare. Now they were using his memories too, it seemed. Was nothing sacred?

This wasn’t right. He almost never had nightmares when Zevran was with him, lying entangled together in each other’s arms, sweat-soaked after having spent themselves utterly before sleep. But here in the Deep Roads – far, far below the surface – things were all too different; no doubt it was due to both the closer proximity of the darkspawn and their sheer numbers. Alistair had been feeling it, too, he knew – a single glance at the other Warden’s face, with its bleary eyes and pale skin, told Callum everything he needed to know. Was that the way Callum looked now, as well, in his sleep-deprived state? He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

At first, Callum had coped by insisting on taking night watch duty for the camp, but the others had quickly caught on and had sent him to bed after almost three nights in a row of acting as lookout. It was for his own good, he knew, and he was truthfully quite grateful that his companions had overruled his decision: it showed both that they cared for his wellbeing and weren’t afraid to oppose him if the need arose. But there was still the problem of being unable to sleep properly when his every moment with his eyes shut was spent fending off dreadful nightmares.

Callum decided he’d try and think of something else – a more vivid memory, perhaps? Or a fantasy? A quiet snore from the body curled up beside him in the bedroll reminded him of what he and Zevran had gotten up to only a few hours beforehand. The sensations came flooding back to him immediately – heavy gasps ringing in his ears, firms hands gripping his body, a pair of toned thighs resting against his...

Callum hummed with quiet satisfaction as he moved closer to Zevran’s sleeping form, cuddling up against him, feeling the warmth of his body mingling with his own. With his companion so near to him, it wasn’t difficult to picture Zevran’s gleaming eyes and his mischievous grin. Callum thought of Zevran’s lips closing over the head of his cock, sliding down over the skin, sending tingles of pleasure racing through him. He pictured Zevran pleasuring him on his hands and knees, as he so often liked to do. Zevran’s back was arched, the cleft of his ass visible from where Callum sat with Zevran’s head between his thighs. But then he pictured somebody else with them, kneeling behind Zevran with their hands on his hips. He thought back to Zevran’s description of his friend from Antiva, Taliesen, and imagined the man fucking Zevran from behind...

Taliesen’s chest was broad and muscled, glistening with sweat and covered with a fine layer of rich, black hair. His large hands squeezed Zevran’s hips as he pulled the elven man against him, pounding him eagerly, grunting with the effort. Zevran moaned wantonly, exhilaration clear even in his muffled voice, and Callum felt the sound vibrating in his cock. Zevran’s back arched further as Taliesen penetrated him deeper, and his mouth broke free of Callum’s cock just so he could cry out properly – a sound of pure, primal need. With a heavy gasp, Callum swept his gaze over Zevran and Taliesen’s bodies, eyes drinking in the view of his lover being pleasured and lingering on Taliesen’s torso, before moving upwards to Taliesen’s head, which was the mottled grey colour of rotten flesh.

Callum’s gut lurched as the two Antivans’ dark skin was torn open, revealing the raw, festering flesh of darkspawn, and he screamed as they pounced on him. Callum’s lust and pleasure turned to fear and pain as he felt a pair of jaws sink into his shoulder, gnawing on his flesh, teeth piercing straight through to the bone.

Callum cried out, lashing out against the sheets, limbs flailing wildly as he tried to fend off the phantoms that were still present in his mind even as he awoke. He felt a pair of hand close around his wrists, and he yelled again as he fought against their grip, only to hear a voice hiss in his ear:

“Cal! Cal, it’s me!”

Callum took a shuddering breath as he forced himself to try and calm down, forcing the bad dreams from his mind and slumping at last against Zevran, who relinquished his hold on Callum’s arms as he did.

“Sorry,” Zevran whispered quickly. “I shouldn’t have grabbed you like that. You just started shouting and-”

“It’s alright,” Callum interjected. “Thank you, Zev.” He paused for a moment, before mumbling, “Maybe I should stay in the spare tent for the rest of the night?”

But Zevran only tutted and nuzzled in closer towards him.

“Don’t be ridiculous. You’ll stay right here, where I can keep an eye on you.”

“I just don’t want to frighten you. Or hurt you, either.”

“You won’t do either of those things,” Zevran promised him. “If I didn’t want you by my side, I would have left the tent myself. I won’t abandon you now – not when you need me the most.”

“You’re...” Callum fought to hold back the words that sprang to his tongue, carried by a rush of affection and gratitude. “You’re...amazing, Zev.”

Zevran hummed a quiet chuckle and pressed his lips briefly to the tip of Callum’s nose. They held each other for a time, then, content not to speak. Callum wished he could have attributed his overwhelming emotional state to his own exhaustion, but he knew it was more than just that. He wasn’t sure which frightened him more – his nightmares or the thought of his feelings for Zevran. Callum had never felt this way about anyone before – not even about Anders, or anyone else in the Circle, for that matter. Then again, he’d never had sex with a single person as many times as he’d had sex with Zevran. Was that all this was – just his body’s natural response to being with his sexual partner? Morrigan had warned him long ago about getting too close to the assassin, and he’d reassured her that his intentions were physical only. But was that still true? He spent a lot of time with Zevran, and the two of them were undoubtedly closer than any other pair in the party. He’d experienced sexual attraction towards his friends before in the Circle, often even acting upon that attraction; that was nothing new. But this wasn’t the same. That jolt that he’d felt whenever Zevran made eye contact with him after they’d first met hadn’t died down or faded away, but had instead become a steady glow in his chest like a fire whenever Callum so much as looked at him. He’d been determined not to let it distract him from his duties as a Grey Warden, but when the two of them were lying here together like this, it became impossible to ignore.

“Are you alright?”

Zevran had clearly sensed Callum’s racing thoughts. The Warden swallowed down his confusing feelings and said, “I’m just a bit shaken, still. I don’t know how I’ll be able to fall asleep again.”

Zevran was quiet for a moment, before he murmured, “We could always do what we usually do before we go to sleep?”

Callum felt a smile tugging at one corner of his mouth despite himself. “Again?”

“So long as you’re up to the task?” Zevran’s lips were so close to Callum’s now as to almost brush against them.

“I’m always up to the task,” Callum assured him, his teeth sinking into Zevran’s bottom lip and drawing a gentle grunt from him. “But, maybe we could try a different position than last time?”

Zevran planted a series of kisses on Callum’s mouth, jaw and neck, speaking as he went. “What sort of...position did you...have in mind?”

“I was – ahhh – hoping you could fuck me, this time?” Callum groaned as Zevran’s lips tugged on the sensitive skin on his neck. At once, a hand grasped at either of Callum’s thighs and took hold of them, lifting them up until they were spread apart, his feet pressing against the sheet covering their naked bodies.

“That can be arranged,” Zevran promised, one finger already flitting about Callum’s hole, making the Warden squirm. Zevran sank down low, his grinning face disappearing under the sheet. Callum gasped as he felt the hot swipe of Zevran’s tongue against his tender flesh, worming its way down between his buttocks and pressing against his entrance in the most tantalising way possible. Callum knew by now that Zevran loved doing this to him – teasing him in the most intimate way possible and watching him squirm, dragging out every last pleasure-soaked second until Callum was spluttering things so blasphemous they could have made a cleric faint.

“F-Fuck...!” he hissed, toes curling against the sheet as the minutes ticked by with him unable to focus on anything but Zevran’s tongue. “Andraste’s hole, Zev!”

Zevran muttered something indistinct that sounded something like, “That’s a new one.”

“Ahh...ahhhh...” Callum was practically sobbing. “Just fuck me now, Zev, please!”

The magic word having been uttered, the intense pressure on Callum’s hole eased at last as Zevran lifted his head away, smirking proudly down at him. Callum reached out one hand down towards Zevran, who grasped hold of it without needing to be told. A murmured incantation later and their joined hands were suddenly slick with grease, which Zevran eagerly scooped into his other hand. He set to work slathering the grease over Callum’s entrance and his own cock, and soon was pressing himself against Callum’s hole intently. Zevran slid inside him with a grunt and an echoed gasp from Callum. It had been some time since they’d done this last, and the Warden was surprised at how the sensation stung less this time than previously. The feeling of Zeran’s cock pushing inside him was already enough to make Callum’s body quiver and shake. The feeling only intensified when Zevran began rolling his hips in a ponderous and casual manner, his eyes shut and his teeth sinking into his lower lip, clearly relishing every second. The sight was enough for a rush of desire and affection to overwhelm Callum’s frustration with his lover’s lack of haste.

“You’re lucky you’re so fucking...attractive,” Callum choked out, earning a snicker from Zevran.

“It’s one of my better qualities, yes.” Zevran sank in deeper, making Callum moan wantonly.

“Ohhh, Maker!” Callum breathed. “I never tease you like this when I’m fucking you!”

Zevran grinned down at him. “Then perhaps you ought to try it some time.”

Whatever witty remark Callum had been about to pass died in his throat as Zevran finally picked up speed – going faster than Callum had anticipated. The Warden gasped as Zevran began pounding him with intent, firm hands squeezing Callum’s thighs as Zevran held onto them for dear life. The sound of their bodies hitting together filled the tent, issuing out into the cavern beyond – a furious clapping sound, rather like vigorous applause.

“Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!”

The words served a purpose other than just mindless vocalisation of pleasure – the tiny fragment of Callum that was still capable of rationalising at this point wanted to ensure that any unfortunate party members who were still awake, or had been awoken by the noise, understood that Callum’s screaming was out of rapture rather than agony. But even that tiny fragment was shattered when Zevran’s hands dropped to Callum’s ass and hoisted him upwards, changing the angle of penetration and allowing him better access. Callum’s jaw dropped as Zevran began fucking him harder and deeper than ever before, his lover’s titillated grin dropping into a grimace of exertion. Now Callum’s cries were echoed by Zevran, the two of them moaning in unison, no longer caring who or what could overhear.

“Z-Zevran...!” Callum’s breathy voice quivered with every thrust from his lover. “I w-won’t...last m-much longer...!”

He felt Zevran’s hands squeeze his hips. “Do it. I’m – ah! – right behind you...!”

Callum grasped hold of his cock with one hand and managed a handful of quick strokes before he came undone, a hot spray of fluid shooting over his torso, sending his whole body into overwhelming pleasure. He could feel the scream in his throat, but the sound was drowned out by the rush in his ears. And when that noise had finally died away – seconds or hours later – it was replaced by a loud moan from Zevran. Callum felt the heat of his lover’s seed deep, deep inside him as his cock pulsed over and over again – each pulse driving another heavy groan from Zevran. His grip on Callum’s body loosened as his orgasm faded, and the Warden was slowly lowered back down onto the bedroll, Zevran’s cock sliding gently out of him. Once that was done, he practically collapsed down on top of Callum, who giggled like a child as Zevran planted kiss after kiss on the bottom half of his face. To Callum, the silly display of affection somehow felt just as amazing as everything that had come before.

“How do you feel?” Zevran asked in a throaty voice as he settled himself back down into the bedroll beside Callum. “Have I worn you out?”

Callum’s whole body ached in the most satisfying way imaginable, and his heart was still pounding from exertion and adrenaline. He wrapped his arms around Zevran and held him tightly against him. “Yes, you have. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Zev.”

He chuckled against Callum’s neck. “You are kind to say so, mi amor...”

Callum frowned slightly as he rubbed the back of Zevran’s head, fingers brushing gently against his hair. “I haven’t heard you say that before. Is it any different from ‘mi amigo’?

Zevran’s body stiffened. It was only a slight movement, but Callum felt it all the same, as tangled up as the two of them were.

“No,” Zevran said, after hesitating for just a moment too long. “They mean the same thing.”

“...Could you say it again?”

Zevran wriggled against Callum until he was facing away from him. “Let’s just go to sleep, Cal.”

So he was hiding something, Callum realised. Had Zevran’s tongue slipped and made him say something he’d regretted? But there was little point in trying to prise it out of him – certainly not at a time like this.

“Thank you, Zev,” Callum said. “For all your ‘help’.”

He’d been momentarily afraid that Zevran would remain silent and refuse to respond, and so Callum was relieved to hear him murmur, “You are welcome.”

Callum had little doubt that the nightmares would return – this far beneath the surface, there could be no escaping them. But with Zevran here at his side, warming him like a furnace, the Warden felt certain that he could handle anything.

Chapter Text

 

Callum inhaled deeply, relishing the way the frigid air stung the inside of his nose and chilled the insides of his lungs. He’d been aboveground for over six hours now and yet every single breath of air still dizzied him with its freshness. All in all, what with having to run errands in Orzammar before and after their trek through the Deep Roads, the party had spent an entire month underground. As a result, Wintersmarch had come and gone, and it was now the start of Guardian. The feast of Wintersend had passed them by, unlike Satinalia, to the disappointment of some of the party more than others. But there were things more important than festivals and celebrations, they all knew. They had come to Orzammar to ask for the dwarven army’s aid in combating the Blight, which they thankfully had succeeded in obtaining – albeit only after a great deal of time and effort. Now, Bhelen Aeducan assumed the much-coveted position of king while his rival, Pyral Harrowmont, had returned to the Stone. Progressive policies or no, the fact that Callum had had to install a potential tyrant on the throne to end the political stalemate in the Assembly was galling to him. He never wanted to spend another moment of his life underground, and it wasn’t just because of the darkspawn or giant spiders or broodmothers. Having now spent more than enough time in Orzammar himself, the Grey Warden understood why so many dwarves left for the surface.

Speaking of which, their new companion who had joined them on their journey into the Deep Roads had decided to continue with them on their quest to end the Blight – much to Callum’s surprise. Callum wasn’t the type to never give people second chances after poor first impressions, but in all the time they’d shared with Oghren, the dwarven man had displayed little beyond his crude, vulgar persona. He smelled like an alehouse, he belched at regular intervals, he made horribly inappropriate comments – particularly towards Morrigan and Leliana – and, in general, made himself rather difficult to get along with. Perhaps it was because he had yet to properly warm up to the party, but his disgusting habits and lecherous gaze tended to keep away anyone who dared approach. In any case, Oghren had more than proved himself in battle during their expedition to find the Anvil of the Void. Callum knew that the inevitable clash against the darkspawn horde was drawing nearer and nearer, and that they would need all the help they could get when that time came. For that reason alone, Oghren could stay – not that anyone, Callum included, seemed particularly thrilled by that prospect.

But despite everything, the dwarven man did have his uses. He called the party to a halt that evening as they were about to reach the foothills of the Frostbacks, and pointed towards the side of one of the smaller mountain peaks.

“I wanna make a suggestion,” he announced. “I think we should make camp over there for the night.”

“Wait, what?” Alistair frowned in puzzlement. “It’s not even dark out yet and you want us to stop for the evening? We need to get back to Redcliffe as soon-”

“Hold your broncos, kid. Let me finish.” Oghren jerked his thumb towards the same spot he had indicated earlier. “There’s a natural hot spring over there – perfect place to wash off all that grime from the Deep Roads.”

“Remarkable,” Morrigan muttered, loud enough for Oghren to hear. “And here I thought the dwarf had no concept of hygiene at all.”

Oghren’s eyes narrowed as he leered at the witch. “Oh, trust me, gal – I can really get dirty if you want me-”

“Oghren,” Callum cut in quickly, “how do you know for sure that there’s a hot spring there?”

The dwarven man grinned as he tapped a single, thick finger against his temple. “Stone sense, kid. I’ve still got it, even on the surface. Never steers ya wrong.”

“Hmmm...” Callum glanced up at the site Oghren had pointed out, and noticed for the first time the trails of what looked to be steam rising into the clouds above. Likely, something hot was causing the fresh snow in that area to melt – perhaps Oghren’s “Stone sense” had been right? Or, alternatively, the dwarven man’s keen eyes had spotted the vapour before anyone else had.

“I don’t know about all of you,” Leliana piped up, “but I could certainly do with a bath. I feel as though it’s been years since I was last fully clean.”

Alistair made an uncertain sound in the back of his throat. “Me too. But we promised the arl that we’d return once we’d secured aid from Orzammar. I’d rather not keep him waiting – or anybody else, for that matter.”

“We have a vital task to carry out,” Morrigan reminded them all. “I suggest we avoid taking any needless detours.”

“There’s nothing ‘needless’ about good hygiene,” Zevran insisted.

Morrigan waved a hand at him. “There will be baths in Redcliffe.”

But the thought of a hot spring bath so nearby had caught the interest of most of the party – even Sten seemed less disagreeable than usual to the idea.

“We’ll put it to a vote,” Callum decided. “If you think we should visit this hot spring, say ‘yes’. Otherwise, say ‘no’.”

There was a chorus of yeses from Leliana, Zevran, Alistair, and Oghren. Even Barkspawn let out a sharp bark. Morrigan was the only one to say ‘no’, while Sten remained silent – which Callum took as an abstention.

“Then it’s decided,” Callum said, ignoring Morrigan’s sigh. “Lead the way, Oghren.”

 

 

The climb up to the hot spring proved steeper than expected, and the party were more than ready to rest once the slope evened out. But the sight of the giant pool of water, half-hidden beneath vast amounts of steam, was like a balm for their worries. Zevran and Alistair insisted on allowing the two women to bathe first while the men set up camp, and Oghren agreed so eagerly that it made Callum suspicious. He kept an eye on the newest member of their group while the tents were set up and, perhaps because he knew Callum was watching him the entire time, he never tried to sneak away. He grumbled something once or twice under his breath along the lines of “Just a quick peek, is all,” but otherwise didn’t voice his frustrations. At last, shortly after the camp had been fully set for the night, Leliana and Morrigan re-emerged from the steam, their skin flushed and clean for the first time since they’d reached Orzammar.

“That was incredible!” Leliana enthused, her long red hair soaked through and sticking to her head and neck. “You simply must try it at once, all of you!”

Morrigan didn’t say anything, but she hadn’t even a slight frown across her face as she departed wordlessly for her tent, which Callum took as a good sign. Most likely, she had enjoyed the hot spring too, but was too proud to admit it. The knowing look Callum shared with Leliana and the quiet smile she hid behind a hand only confirmed his suspicions.

“Goodnight, Leliana,” he said to her as she returned to her tent, politely averting her eyes from both Oghren and Zevran, who were already shucking themselves out of their clothes.

“I’ll race you in!” Zevran cried as he slid his smallclothes down his legs and sprinted into the mist, his naked form disappearing behind walls of steam.

“You’re on, pretty boy!” Oghren’s stout form chased after Zevran, hopping up and down furiously as he tried to pull off his breeches while he ran. Alistair merely sighed before following them at a steady pace, deciding it was too late or too dangerous to take part in the race. Callum had been about to join him, but movement out of the corner of his eye made him pause. He turned to see Bodahn and Sandal busying themselves unloading the cart, which had taken a great deal of effort to wheel up the mountainside. Callum took a handful of steps towards them before their elder Feddic noticed him and waved a hand at him.

“Don’t you worry about us, Warden!” Bodahn called in his usually cheerful voice. “My boy and I will wait until tomorrow morning to wash ourselves.”

“Are you sure?”

“As sure as sure can be. We’ve got to finish unloading the wagon before we can relax. You run along and don’t pay us no mind!”

Knowing that Bodahn’s mind had been made up, Callum shrugged and walked away, waving back when Sandal wiggled his fingers at him in farewell.

The sound of men’s voices guided Callum through the mist, bringing him right to the edge of the hot spring – which turned out to be a rounded pool roughly ten feet in diameter. Even from here, the heat was incredible – steam rising against his face and beading on his skin like sweat. He spotted Zevran first, sitting near the side of the pool of steaming water with his bare torso sticking out and his elbows resting casually on the edge. Zevran’s head was tilted lazily back, his eyes shut and his teeth bared in a exhilarated grin that Callum only ever saw when he was sucking Zevran off. Another person was sitting in the hot spring across from Zevran – likely Oghren, judging by their size and shape. There was no sign of Sten yet, but a broad-shouldered figure (which Callum assumed to be Alistair) was standing on Callum’s left and disrobing at the edge of the pool, mist conserving his modesty.

“Cal,” Zev grunted his name in a heavy voice, drawing the Warden’s attention away from the near-naked Alistair, “you need to try this.”

Callum chuckled as he kicked his boots off. His armour had already been discarded at the camp, leaving him in only his shirt and breeches, which were swiftly removed under Zevran’s attentive watch. Callum wriggled out of his smallclothes and dipped a toe into the water. The digit immediately grew warm, and the heat from the water rapidly spread through the Warden’s foot. Callum practically fell into the spring, pulled along by his desperate need for heat, and immediately gasped as the hot water swallowed up the majority of his body as he sank down into the spring.

“Ahh! Ahhhhhh...!” Callum groaned as his limbs quivered with sheer ecstasy. He felt colour rise in his cheeks, both from the heat now spreading through his body and the embarrassment he was feeling at the stares he was receiving from the other men. Callum was thankful that the steam and water hid his submerged body parts from view, for the sensation of the hot water against his naked form had caused a particularly-noticeable change in certain parts of his body.

“You seem to be enjoying yourself, Cal,” Alistair muttered wryly, stepping slowly out of the mist, and Callum barely resisted the urge to drink in the view. Alistair hopped into the water, talking as he went. “I can’t imagine how hot water could feel so- ohhhhhh...”

Callum grinned as Alistair’s eyes fluttered shut, the other Warden’s head lolling back as he sank down into the spring.

“Maker,” Alistair breathed, his face visibly turning pink. “I, er, I think...that is...” He inhaled deeply, steam swirling around his nose and mouth as he tried to gather his thoughts. “This is...rather nice, yes.”

And he sank further down into the water until only his head and shoulders were sticking out. Callum guessed that Alistair was experiencing the same rapidly-growing change in his body as he was – a thought that lingered in Callum’s mind no matter how hard he tried to disregard it. It was true that his feelings for Alistair had cooled from a helpless crush into a mostly-platonic friendship, but his fellow Grey Warden was still an undeniably attractive man. A gentle grunt from Callum’s right-hand side informed him that Zevran was watching Alistair in turn, and he turned to see Zevran biting his lip as his eyes swept over every last inch of Alistair’s body that was still visible.

“I’d love to know what you’re thinking right now,” Callum whispered to him.

“Delicious thoughts,” Zevran murmured in reply, his lips brushing against Callum’s cheek as he leaned in closer to his ear. Callum turned his head and their noses bumped together, and they found themselves staring into each other’s eyes, faces almost touching. Heat rose in Callum, and not just because of the warmth of the water. Zevran didn’t close the gap between their lips, but the look in his eyes told Callum that he wanted to. But just as Callum was about to lean in to kiss him, there was a noise of disgust from the opposite side of the spring.

“Hey, not in front of the kids!” Oghren grumbled. “Keep it clean.”

Zevran and Callum’s heads both snapped in the dwarf’s direction, the warmth in Callum’s chest freezing solid.

“What ‘kids’?” Callum asked, unable to hide the irritation in his voice.

Oghren’s grumpy face split into a lecherous grin as he pushed himself up out of the water, exposing his naked body to the elements. With one hand, Oghren grasped hold of himself by the groin and shook his genitals with grotesque vigour, jerking his hips for emphasis.

These kids!” The dwarf barked a laugh at the look of revulsion on the other three men’s faces.

“I believe those ‘delicious thoughts’ I mentioned have all evaporated,” Zevran muttered darkly, and Callum grunted in agreement. Looking at him now, it wasn’t as though Oghren was physically unattractive, exactly. His whole body was covered in a fur-like red hair, and rippled with muscle and bulk with every movement. But his disgusting habits and even more disgusting personality ruined whatever positive impression the rest of him could have made.

“So keep it in the tent, fellas,” Oghren said in finality as he dropped back into the water. “None of us need to see what the two of you get up to when you’re all alone.”

Spite gripping him, Callum wrapped an arm around Zevran’s shoulders and tugged him close. He stuck out his tongue and ran it up the side of Zevran’s face, lathering his cheek determinedly, maintaining steady eye contact with Oghren the whole time.

“Why so upset, Oghren?” Zevran asked, giggling slightly at the sensation of Callum’s tongue against his face.

“The Warden’s meant to be our fearless leader, ain’t he?” Oghren shrugged his shoulders. “Thought he’d be showing a bit more, uh, decorum.”

Zevran laughed aloud this time, with Alistair joining in.

“You don’t know Callum very well, do you?” Zevran chuckled. “You’ll grow used to this, in time.”

“I’m sure if Leliana and Morrigan were in their place, you’d have no complaints,” Alistair pointed out, only to make a revolted face when Oghren’s eyes rolled back in his head in feigned ecstasy.

“Ancestors, what a sight that’d be!” Oghren grinned. “Just thinking about those two fine lil’ ladies soaking it up in the hot water, legs slipping and sliding together...” A pink tongue slid out and slathered his lips with saliva.

“Clearly he doesn’t know Leliana or Morrigan very well, either,” Alistair said. “I doubt those two have said more than a single civil word to one another since the day they met.”

“Aha!” Oghren crowed. “That’s how you know they’re doing the dirty together. Women are all hungry, lustful beasts – they crave somebody who’ll give ‘em a tongue-lashing in the streets, but give ‘em a different kind of tonguing in the sheets...if you know what I mean?”

“No wonder your wife left you,” Zevran commented.

“‘Decorum’, he says.” Alistair shook his head in bemusement. “What would you know about that sort of thing?”

“Hey, I ain’t the leader here.” Oghren scratched one ear before flicking away whatever had stuck to his finger. “I can say and do what I please. Him, on the other hand...”

“I never asked to be the leader,” Callum told him curtly. “And even if I had, I wouldn’t concern myself with how you think a leader should act.”

Oghren shrugged again. “Suit yourself.” He leaned back, his head resting against the edge of the spring, only for his body to stiffen. Oghren quickly ducked his head back down, his face having turned white. “Ugh, still no good.”

“Something wrong, Oghren?” Zevran called to him. “Surely, you cannot have a hangover so soon?”

Oghren shook his head numbly. “Not that. I keep...I keep feeling like...” He huffed air out through his nose. “I’m not used to all this sky, just hanging around over our heads like this. It’s weird.”

“We promise to catch you if you start to fall in,” Alistair joked, prompting Oghren to shoot him a furious glare. “Or perhaps not...?”

During the silence that followed, there was movement from out of the corner of Callum’s eye. He glanced over to see Sten stepping out of the mist, his grey skin and scarred flesh on full display. The Qunari slid wordlessly into the water, air escaping audibly from his nose in a quiet sigh as he sank down into the hot spring. While the water was high enough to reach Callum’s chest, it scarcely covered Sten’s abdomen, leaving very little of the Qunari’s muscled form to the imagination. Two well-toned thighs jutted up from the water at either side of him, and the sight was enough to make Callum’s mouth go dry, despite the water all around them.

“We were beginning to fear you’d never join us,” Zevran called to him. “We rarely see this much of you, you know.”

“Hm.” Sten’s response was as brief as ever. If he’d noticed the innuendo in Zevran’s words, he ignored it.

“Well,” Alistair said, after another few moments of awkward silence, “this is...nice, isn’t it? Just us good old chums, spending some quality time together. Warms the heart, so it does.”

Oghren snorted. “It’d be better if those girls had stuck around here with us. Then we could really have a good time.”

“They aren’t going to have sex with you, Oghren,” Callum told him.

The dwarven man bared his filthy teeth in what could have been either a smile or a snarl. “You say that now, sure. But ol’ Oghren’s got enough charm to seduce the pants off any lady, no matter how stubborn.”

Zevran pursed his lips and made a worried noise. “Do...do I sound like that?”

“No, Zev, you don’t.” Zevran was a notorious flirt, but he’d always backed down whenever someone had made it clear they had no interest in him. To Oghren, Callum said, “Fair warning, Oghren – neither of those two women will tolerate you acting lecherous towards them. You’ll likely end up with your head being set on fire, or peppered with arrows...or perhaps both.”

“I like a bit of challenge,” Oghren shot back. “Makes things interesting.”

“It’s your funeral.”

Oghren folded his two heavy arms across his broad chest. “Why are you the leader of this bunch, anyway? Seems to me like all you do is bitch, complain, and fuck little elven boys.”

Anger sparked in Callum’s chest, but when he opened his mouth to retort, he was cut off from speaking by a loud voice from his left-hand side.

“We decided that Callum was our leader,” Alistair told Oghren hotly. “It was unanimous. And he’s made it very clear that if we don’t like how he runs things, we’re free to tell him so. But he hasn’t done anything to make us question that so far. ”

Callum blinked in surprise at Alistair’s words. Had he forgiven him at last for becoming a blood mage? The forbidden magic had saved their lives multiple times during their trek through the Deep Roads, after all.

“Callum is kind,” Zevran said, and the Warden felt his face flush. “He spared my life when I would have...when he could have ended it without a second thought.”

“And not just his, either,” Alistair followed up. “He took the time and effort to save the life of Arl Eamon’s son when almost everyone else wanted to let him die. And he fought for peace between the Dalish elves and werewolves when their feuding could have wiped them all out.”

Oghren frowned. “What-wolves?”

“It’s a long story,” Callum mumbled, his eyes dropping to the water in embarrassment upon hearing his companions heaping praise upon him.

“He also fought to rescue the mages trapped in the Circle tower,” Zevran carried on, “when the Chantry and crown both would have left them to the templars’ ‘mercy’. At every step along this journey, our dear Warden has shown nothing but kindness and strength. That is why I...I follow him.”

“Me, too,” Alistair declared. “Maker knows nobody else could take charge of a group of misfits like us.”

Oghren made a hmph noise before his eyes fell upon the bathing Qunari. “And you, big guy?”

“The Grey Warden returned that which was stolen from me,” Sten replied in his usual even tone. “He puzzles me as much as any bas, but I cannot deny my gratitude towards him.”

It had been pure chance that they had found the sword amongst the wares of a merchant in the open market outside Orzammar’s gates. Callum had, admittedly, promised to search for it, but hadn’t expected to come across it when he did. The Qunari’s attitude towards him had changed for the better after that.

“Huh,” Oghren grunted. “Wish I had some folks who’d show me this much loyalty.”

“Maybe once you’ve done something to deserve it,” Alistair said, “you will.”

The dwarf’s face twitched momentarily, as though he were about to sneer, but he merely sighed and said, “Right. I’ll think about it.”

And with that, Oghren twisted around and hoisted himself out of the hot spring, his hairy rear-end on full display as he clambered back onto dry land and walked away back to camp.

“You shouldn’t let what he said get to you,” Zevran muttered in Callum’s ear once Oghren was out of earshot.

“I’m not,” Callum insisted. “But I can’t help but feel like he’s going to go the way of Wynne.”

“And leave?” Zevran shook his head. “He has nowhere else to go, now. Orzammar is home to him no longer. Wynne could have returned to the tower whenever she wished to resume her old life, and she did so. But Oghren has left his old life behind.”

Alistair’s eyes lingered on the last place Oghren had been before he’d vanished into the mists. “It’s almost enough to make me pity him. Almost.”

After a moment’s pause, Callum asked him, “Did you really mean what you said, Al? About me, I mean.”

The other Warden turned his head back to face him, and although his mouth was pressed in a hard line, his eyes burned with a newfound determination. “I do. We’ve had a bumpy road together, you and I. But, now that I know what awaits us at the end of that road...”

Callum saw the way Alistair’s eyes screwed shut and his words faltered. He knew full well what he was referring to. Below the ground, they’d fought through more darkspawn than they’d ever encountered on the surface. Each day had been a battle against horrors too unpleasant to describe with words – monstrous spiders, vicious deepstalkers, countless hurlocks and genlocks and more than a few ogres and shrieks. Not to mention the unimaginably-horrible fate that had befallen some of the women that the now-deceased Paragon Branka had stolen away into the Deep Roads with. Even the archdemon had made an appearance briefly, its draconic form searing itself into Callum’s memory like a living nightmare, far worse in reality than anything the Fade could have conjured up. All these things, and more, were what one faced when one became a Grey Warden.

“I’m just saying,” Alistair went on, “I think I finally understand. The anger, the lies, the blood magic...all of it.

Callum breathed a humourless laugh. “The Alistair I met in Ostagar never would have said as much.”

A smile tugged at one corner of Alistair’s mouth. “If I’ve changed – and I know I have – it’s because of you, Cal.”

“...You deserved better from life than losing your family and being forced onto the throne,” Callum said.

“And you deserved better than freedom at the cost of your old age.”

Zevran sighed. “And I deserve better than to die to some horrible monster in a frigid hole of a country like Ferelden, but that does appear to be where things are heading.”

Callum snorted while Alistair let out a quiet chuckle, and he squeezed Zevran’s shoulder gently as he asked, “How would you prefer to die, then?”

“Ahh, now that is an excellent question.” Zevran huddled closer to Callum while he thought. “I had rather hoped to retire to a magnificent villa in my golden years, with nothing to fill my final days but wine and pleasurable company. Ideally, I would perish in my own bed, with a cock in every hole and so utterly satisfied that my heart would simply give out from too much stimulation.”

Alistair gaped while Callum burst out laughing. Sten chose that moment to depart the hot spring, clearly having had enough of their company for the evening.

“I shouldn’t have expected anything less from you, Zev.”

Zevran planted a soft kiss on Callum’s cheek. “Then, how about you, my dear Warden? How would you wish to die?”

Callum blew air out between his lips as he considered the question. “I hadn’t really thought about it. For the majority of my life, the most likely cause of my death would have been starvation in a cell, forgotten far below the tower. But now...” He lifted his eyes to the heavens, where a multitude of stars flickered in and out of view behind the rising steam. “I could see myself dying for a good cause. Giving my life to stop a horde of advancing darkspawn and saving a nearby settlement in the process, perhaps. Or, Maker forbid, getting swallowed whole by the archdemon and making it choke to death.”

Zevran had a curious smile on his face. “How noble, to be thinking only of helping others, even on death’s door.”

Callum shrugged. “If I could give my life so that no mage would ever have to suffer within a Circle’s walls ever again, I would.”

“‘In death, sacrifice’,” Alistair intoned. “Maybe you were always meant to be a Grey Warden, after all.”

The idea of his life, with all its ups and downs, being planned out for him by fate or some higher power made Callum suppress a shudder. He decided to change the topic. “And how would you prefer to die, Al?”

“I’ve been thinking it over for the past few minutes,” Alistair admitted, “and the best I can come up with is ‘being crushed by too many dogs playing with me at once’.”

Callum laughed, while Zevran said, “I believe our canine friend alone would be enough to kill a man accidentally.”

Callum’s expression dropped into a pout. “Barkspawn would never do that!”

At the sound of the dog’s name, there was an answering bark from somewhere nearby, followed by the skittering of paws against rock. The three men in the hot spring had just enough time for their eyes to widen before a large, brown projectile shot out of the mist and dove headfirst into the water. Alistair and Zevran cried out in alarm as Callum began loudly chiding the mabari who was now paddling in circles around the spring, tongue hanging out, his stubby tail wiggling back and forth as he went.

“Callum,” Alistair said gravely, “I can’t believe you’ve done this.”

“Barkspawn!” Callum reprimanded his faithful companion, “that’s enough! Get out of the water, now!”

The vicious wardog’s eyes grew wide and pleading as he paddled over to his partner, whining like a puppy. Callum cursed under his breath, annoyed with himself for how easily he could be won over.

“You can get back in the spring,” he grumbled, “once we’re all out again. But only then!”

His kindness was rewarded with a long, stinking tongue lathering the side of his face as Barkspawn’s mood immediately returned to its previous state of excitement. Once he had finished showing his gratitude towards his partner, the mabari hopped obediently out of the pool, shook himself dry, and wandered off again into the mists. The three men in the hot spring let out a collective sigh of relief.

“At least he’s obedient,” Zevran muttered, eyeing the dog’s lumbering form as it vanished back into the dark.

“And smelly,” Alistair added.

Callum was hurt. “I thought you loved Barkspawn?”

“I do,” Alistair relented, “just...not when I’m trying to have a nice, relaxing soak.” The Warden sighed, his broad chest rising from the water at last. “I’m going to get out now, in case there’s another mishap...”

Callum couldn’t drag his eyes away from the sight of Alistair lifting himself up out of the pool, water trickling down a well-muscled body, lightly dusted with hair. He heard Zevran’s breath hitch beside him. Getting to his feet, Alistair lifted his arms high above his head and stretched himself out, giving the two men watching a full view of every last delicious inch of his back, ass, and legs. Shaking himself loose again, Alistair glanced back over his shoulder and blinked in surprise to see them both looking directly at him. Callum had the sense of grace to avert his eyes and pretend he hadn’t been staring, but Zevran proudly refused to turn away.

“Er...goodnight?”

“Goodnight!” Callum and Zevran responded together, watching as Alistair bundled up his clothes and departed the scene. Once he was gone, they both slumped against one another, giggling at quietly as possible.

“We are shameless,” Callum muttered.

“Nonsense,” Zevran replied. “There is no ‘shame’ to be felt in admiring another man’s physique.”

“I’m not sure Alistair feels the same way...”

“Then that is his loss.” Zevran shrugged, before pausing. “I take it your...feelings towards him haven’t changed?”

Callum glanced at Zevran out of the corner of his eye, wondering what had brought on the sudden interest. It had been months since he’d so much as made passing reference to his crush on Alistair.

“They have. I know him a lot better now than I did back then. Used to be that it was just the three of us – myself, Al, and Morrigan. I suppose that I...developed an attraction to him because he was there for me during that troublesome time.”

“He has a touch more emotional maturity than she does,” Zevran acknowledged.

“But things are different now,” Callum continued. “I like to think that we’ve both changed. I’m more...” He struggled to think of how to properly phrase his thoughts, only for Zevran to cut in.

“Sexually fulfilled?”

Callum snorted. “That may be part of it, yes.”

“Then I’m glad I could be of service.” Zevran bowed his head graciously. “But you are plainly still attracted to him, it seems – and understandably so.”

“He...has a nice bottom,” Callum said under his breath.

“That he does.” Zevran sighed happily as he sank deeper into the water. “What would I give to spend the night between the two last Grey Wardens in all of Ferelden...?”

Callum gave him a half-hearted dig in the ribs. “You’re still fantasising about that?”

“Every single time I see the two of you together,” Zevran said bluntly. “And often when I don’t. Don’t pretend the thought hasn’t crossed your mind, either.”

Callum grunted involuntarily as some rather delightful images of himself, Zevran, and Alistair wrapped up in a bedroll together, limbs tangled and bodies flush with heat. Zevran chuckled knowingly as he caught the expression on Callum’s face.

“As I thought.”

“It’s a nice daydream,” Callum admitted, “but I try not to concern myself with men who have no apparent interest in other men. Not when the men who do are so much more interesting...”

He snaked his arms around Zevran’s shoulders and pulled him into a deep kiss. The Antivan shifted position, and Callum guided him through the water until Zevran was sitting in his lap, their thighs joined, their torsos flush together. It was their first time being so intimate after leaving the Deep Roads, and Callum hadn’t realised until now just how relieved he was to not have to contend with the constant, dreaded hum of darkspawn whispering in the back of his mind. Each kiss felt better than the last, drawing a wanton groan out of him every time. Callum felt his body trembling against Zevran’s, aching with need.

“I know poor Barkspawn is waiting for us to leave,” Callum whispered feverishly, “but right now, I just want to spend all night like this with you.”

It was a silly thing to say, and he knew it. But the rush of affection and emotion running through him made the words spill out unbidden. If Zevran caught the note of earnestness in Callum’s voice, he seemed to pay it no mind, for he leaned in close and kissed him warmly once more.

“I would be more than happy with that,” Zevran whispered back, and Callum’s heart felt so full he thought it would burst.